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HR = Human Relationships

Focus in many successful companies is concentration on winning business, operational excellence and adding profit. All good, but do human relationships usually get sidelined?

HR skills contribute to understanding of what ordinary employees feel, what makes them happy, what wears them down, and importantly what they really think of their leaders and organisation. Are employees proud to work for the company?

HR’s most critical impact is about the relationship between a company and its people. The talented people who make important deals, control finance, and run the day to day operations are not necessarily also equipped with the empathy and emotional intelligence to spend much time on relationships!

What are the ingredients of that relationship? Understanding people’s perspectives; knowing how they will receive and react to company news; knowing their tolerance of change and any red lines, especially where union relations have also be factored in. Generally taking the temperature of the organisation to know when something may be going wrong, even just early signs of a problem coming along. Very important if industrial relations is a potential battleground.

HR will add value to management where leaders recognise this human dimension of corporate structure. It is not only about happiness at work, though that matters to productivity, co-operation and low staff turnover, it is also about correct management of critical changes, understanding the company’s employment relations landscape, recognising influential personalities and conflicting agendas, and crucially knowing how to grow, reward and retain the best people.

A related issue is that many, perhaps most, larger businesses are disconnected internally. The challenge is finding out what helps and hinders joining up the silos people often work within. Leaders may be blind to local people factors that work against achieving a connected business. Top leaders are often let down by middle and junior management who either do not fully buy in to the messages from the top or choose to play by their own rules. Focus group feedback often picks up on this as a key area of employee dissatisfaction with management, and, as they always say, people join companies but leave managers!

How many HR professionals feel these issues are high on the corporate agenda? It may well be those who feel their input is truly valued are in the minority.

The challenge is how to encourage holistic management. Taking a broad view of what makes a business flourish and compete well, or go under. To not give adequate time and priority to internal relationships is a serious gap in management. It also impedes effective internal collaboration, which may in turn prove disastrous in managing projects, delivery of services or goods to time, controlling budgets, and most importantly not identifying excellent business opportunities.

Do HR have the confidence to tell the story persuasively? To demonstrate value day by day in decision processes? What may make the difference for HR professionals who struggle?

Ideally the story is told best by employees themselves, given the voice to do so. Focus groups, forums, and any means to gather thinking people together in a structured way to share ideas and perspectives will enhance a leader’s understanding what his people think of him/her and the business. Surveys just don’t seem to have the same impact. They may deliver a numerical picture of participation and satisfaction but is it enough to make leaders stop and think? Usually not.

Forbury People has seen some very interesting feedback and outcomes from facilitated focus groups. These may set the scene for changes that will be positively received to make a business sustainable; may enable thoughtful decisions to recognise or de-recognise trade unions; to reform employee relations; or identify management weaknesses, inefficiencies and operational failures.

At Clarkslegal we many years ago helped support a grass roots based change programme as part of what was then highlighted as an innovative partnership of Blue Circle with its trade unions. Sometimes employee working groups or action teams can see more clearly where efficiencies can be achieved and job security improved for most employees. It is all a question of giving employees a voice and a process to express themselves. Done right it can pay off very well indeed for the business. A lot better than just fighting fires when things go wrong that some open discussion would have flagged up early.

Chambers and Partners

The Clarkslegal team are commercial and good to work with. They get what our business needs and tell me what I need to hear.

HR is still a relatively new profession developing its corporate purpose and recognised skill sets. Ultimately it needs to be seen that HR is above all about Human Relationships, and while pay, policies, process and implementing personnel decisions may be for many in HR all part of the necessary day job, there is huge value in keeping focus on the personal dynamics of what drives people to achieve or leave.

If relationships and their thoughtful management can be a higher priority throughout the organisation, then the “Human Relationship” specialists can play their important part in making organisations work better and more collaboratively.

Forbury People can be an ally to both HR and business leaders in helping move all levels of management to appreciating and therefore better managing the human dimensions of the workplace.


Michael Sippitt


Forbury People Ltd

About this article


This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

About this article

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