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Abstract: Strategic Role of Human Resources

Facilities management leaders often face unexpected events (from small power outages to major catastrophes) and deal with advancing technologies, uncertain environments, personnel cutbacks, and shrinking resources. Leaders must shift gears quickly while still handling daily operational issues and must confront organizational problems while still trusting people to preserve the organization.

HR as a Strategic Partner

Strategic human resource management (SHRM) means that the HR function contributes to facilities management strategic development as an agent of change and an employee advocate. Historically, HR administration initially served a staffing function (hiring and firing people). Through the 1950s and into the 1970s, HR expanded into personnel administration (e.g., benefits and compensation administration, labor-union and employee relations). A PricewaterhouseCoopers study cited three performance indicators beyond traditional financial reports (customers, employees, and innovation) that affect the true value of companies. The practice of SHRM can be modified for the business model of facilities management in higher education. To ensure that HR is consulted before major strategic changes or operational decisions are made, HR professionals must know and have credibility with facilities management leaders.

Becoming Strategic

To become strategic and earn credibility, HR needs to demonstrate its skills as an adviser and confidant, HR program advocate, and innovator with a business orientation, visionary outlook, professional and technical competence, and commitment to self-education and self-development. HR should develop and sharpen strategic competencies in the HR field, facilitation, communication, analysis and evaluation, psychology, motivation, project management, marketing, financial analysis, and information technology.

Improving HR Service Quality

HR can improve service quality by using (and semiannually repeating) eight foundational practices that require little time, money, or new skills to implement:

(1) identify internal and external customers (the first,  most important, and probably easiest step); (2) understand customer requirements and measure their perception of services (e.g., formal interviews, surveys, small focus groups); (3) define HR management mission and strategy and connect them to goals and objectives     of the facilities management  organization;  (4)  identify the right organization-specific core HR  functions (including legal and compliance functions) in terms of quality, quantity, customer needs, and value; (5) obtain regular feedback from facilities management employees; (6) audit and improve HR service processes, identifying key process customers and process flows and matching technological and process innovations ; (7) update HR staff skills (e.g., knowledge and expertise in business practices, HR profession and service delivery, change management, facilities management business strategies); and (8) recognize and reward HR staff, using the performance appraisal system employed in the facilities management department. The chapter includes examples and relevant questions for many of these eight practices.

Strategic HR Assessment

The HR leader in facilities management should approach the change to strategic partner much like any organizational change initiative, beginning by understanding overall  HR  performance  and  the readiness of facilities management to change. A good starting point is a self-assessment, external peer review   of HR, or both, incorporating questions and criteria such as:   (1) value and reputation of HR personnel and team    in the facilities management organization; (2) relation of HR work to aligning  and  supporting  facilities management and larger campus strategies and goals; (3) impact of HR team on long-term, strategic, and daily operational results of facilities management; (4) existence and owners of facilities management HR plan (developed from the facilities management business plan, a byproduct of university future plans) and role of facilities management leaders in planning for and implementing HR work; (5) facilities manager use of the HR team to analyze, diagnose, and solve people and organizational problems; (6) current practice versus right balance between HR as employee advocate and as supporter of organizational agenda; (7) political readiness to transition HR to a more strategic role (including potential political pitfalls and the need for support of senior facilities management leaders; (8) sponsors of the change and their motivations; and (9) detractors from the process and their reasons (e.g., seeing change as a management fad, viewing HR as no longer representing their interests, fearing loss of job or need to develop new skills).

A Seat at the Decision Table

To respond to current challenges, the facility management leadership team must strengthen existing relevant capabilities and create new organizational capacity, with the HR professional filling the role of a strategic partner with a seat at the management  decision table.

Common Myths That Keep HR from Being Strategic Partners

Common myths about the HR function include assumptions that HR professionals go into the field because they like people; anyone can do HR work; HR deals with soft issues and cannot be accountable for operational or strategic results; HR is a cost center that can only control or reduce costs and thus cannot affect the bottom line; the HR job is to police policy, health, and happiness; HR is full of fads; HR is staffed by nice people; and managing people issues is the job of HR (see Figure 1.11).

Figure 1.11. Myths That Keep HR from Being Professional
Myth Reality
People go into the HR field because they like people. events. HR professionals HR teams are not designed to provide organizational or department therapy or provide social or health-and-happiness must create practices that make employees more productive and competitive, not more comfortable or “happy.”
Anyone can do HR work. HR work is based on theory and research. HR professionals must master both theory and practice to be effective.
HR only deals with the “soft” side of business and cannot be accountable for operational or strategic results. The impact of HR work on business results can and should be tracked and measured. HR professionals must learn how to link their work to organizational strategy, performance and customer needs.
HR is a cost center and therefore can only control or reduce costs and cannot impact the bottom line. In addition to reducing and avoiding costs, HR practices must create value by helping to improve employee expertise to meet both short and long term organizational and customer goals.
HR’s job is to be the policy police and the health-and-happiness patrol. The HR team does 1101 own policy compliance nor can it realistically enforce compliance – line managers do. HR practices do not exist to make employees happy; they exist to create a productive work place and committed work force.
HR is full of fads. HR practices have evolved over time. HR professionals must see their current work as part of an evolutionary chain and explain their work with less jargon and more authority and influence.
HR is staffed by nice people. At times HR practices should force vigorous debates and philosophies should be thoroughly discussed and debated. HR professionals should be supportive, but also able to confront and/or challenge situations and decisions with professionalism.
Managing people issues is HR’s job. Managing the people issues of an organization is just as important for line managers as is budget and finance issues or other business domains. HR practice is owned by the most senior leader in the organization. HR and line managers are partners in championing HR issues.

There are five principles critical to an organization understanding and accepting strategic HR: human talent creates all value; every business or operational issue is a symptom of deeper human or organizational issues; future human talent will be scarce; HR work must be directly connected to business strategy and customer needs; and line management is responsible for HR work in the organization. Facilities management business issues and people issues are now one and the same.

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