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HR - are you prepared for an upturn?

Human resources and Talent Management
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We posed several key questions to the group:

  • How will HR position itself when the market changes?
  • Is HR as commercial as it thinks it is?
  • How will business drive performance when it needs to?
  • What are the potential risks?

Changes for HR as upturn looms

The group agreed the recession has highlighted HR expertise and the profile of HR professionals has risen in terms of its importance to reorganise business structure and facilitate ideas for driving the business forward.


As business sentiment changes, so will HR’s role within in the business, moving from holding still to facilitating growth will be difficult.

The delegates concluded that ‘many businesses have kept people during the recession but are they the best people? Many employees are war weary.’


‘Commercial’ HR types

A number of delegates thought the term “commercial” had been massacred and they find the buzz word off putting at CV stage or in interview due to overuse.


Is it a smoke screen to hide the fact that people aren’t really as commercial as they think they are?


We discussed the fact that it is not the mere mention of the word but the delivery of it that matters and the ability to substantiate your own direct involvement and level of influence. We all know that HR shouldn’t be perceived as a blocker or talk ‘HR talk’!


It is imperative to add value by setting objectives which support the business plan first and the people plan second. In order to achieve unison between the HR function and the business plan, you must first understand the end goal of your key stakeholders.



Our next point of business centred on managers and directors who have been working hard to keep their teams afloat, rather than preparing them for any future shifts in the market. We agreed that there was no silver bullet for this; however a blended approach which aims to address the key HR issues which would have the most impact:



‘We should maximise the quality of our hires and identify innovative ways of developing and retaining talent. Limiting time and investment in the recruitment process can be disastrous, but also considering that directors and managers have their own vested interest in who they hire. Are they really bringing in top talent that will push the business forward or are they managing the status quo to protect themselves?’


‘It is important to take in to account the potential as well as the technical attributes of any candidate. During the recruitment process is the time to identify the direction the business wants to go and where the performance issues are, including medium and long term development potential of the candidates before making the hire.’



‘Continuous long term development programmes retain people as well as grow your internal talent for the future. Investing in your people now will help to grow their capability and the leadership teams of the future.’



‘It’s been a difficult time for a number of Retailers. It’s poignant that the latest press release from John Lewis has announced a 17% bonus for staff after reporting a rise in profits, to recognise and reward a loyal team.’

‘It is important to create an incentive arrangement that rewards a broad range of employees. A middle manager who knows that the bonuses all but disappeared in the recession might be reinvigorated by the promise of alternative pay arrangements and this could help with retention and performance.’



What happens if the flood gates open?

How do you hold your team together or stop them being poached as the market picks up? A number of comments were made regarding increased mobility of people when the market picks up and the lack of fluidity in the market at present.


It is important to understand the dynamics of your business and what the potential pit falls could be. If there have been no pay increases and no progression opportunities then you could have a potential problem.


There are other risks of course. If the business has been performing well and kept their staff, it doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t addressed the internal issues. People are simply staying put due to lack of options.


It is also important to understand if you are a poacher or poachee. For example, if you are a retailer and your whole buying team moved to a direct competitor you could be in serious trouble!


It is important to have a plan in place should the worst happen. Make a check list. One size doesn’t fit all!

  • Who don’t you want to lose, who do you value, who is business critical?
  • Quick response team – what can you do if a whole team leaves?
  • What checks can you do to manage who they’re in conversation with?
  • How effective are your policies or non-competes if they move to a direct competitor?


There is a lot of speculation in the press regarding the economy and where the market will land. With UK unemployment at an all time high any market upturn could leave businesses scrambling for talent and everyone needs to be prepared.

It is essential to plan ahead for the upturn, rather than simply managing the here and now. Economic growth figures often lack the real market and those businesses that plan ahead will be better placed to take advantage of a change in conditions.

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