Every organisation is different and so is the way their HR function operates. From generalist roles to specialist positions, there are many different functions, depending on the organisation's size and needs. Here, we describe just some of the varied roles in HR. Rather than just give you the theory, we've also talked to real people about what they actually do.
When you're an HR Generalist, variety is the order of the day and you'll get involved in a wide range of specialist areas. One day, you could be working with management to decide on the people you need to deliver your business strategy. The next, you could be running an employee focus group, getting to grips with the issues that motivate teams. You could even develop a new benefits package or make sure a new HR information system delivers streamlined processes and support.
As an HR Generalist, you may often find yourself supporting – and even challenging – managers as they lead their teams. Your insight into building lasting performance will be a vital tool of your trade.
'As an HR business partner, I see myself as the face of HR out into the business, and the voice of the business back into HR. It really is about managing two dynamic, intertwined relationships. As a consultant to the business, I look to understand their needs before facilitating a discussion between them and the specialist HR functions. With the relationship managers in the specialist HR functions, I look to be the 'voice of the customer', to ensure their products and services land effectively. It really is a generalist role, where no two days are the same. You have to build good relationships, trusting in the specialists' expert knowledge while often thinking the business' next thoughts before they've even thought them. But it's the variety, breadth, and being a trusted advisor to the business that makes it such an enjoyable role!'
Charlotte Fordham, HR Business Partner, HSBC
Back to top
Recruitment, resourcing and talent planning
If you're working in a recruitment, resourcing and talent-planning role, you'll need to manage resources (people in the organisation) to meet the changing needs of the business and in particular to fulfil the short and long-term requirements of the organisation’s strategy. To do this, you need to plan around changing demographics, supply and demand, staff turnover and scarce skills.
You'll also be responsible for identifying and attracting key people who can create a competitive advantage for the organisation. In times of economic uncertainty where recruitment is frozen or limited, this might include keeping talent engaged and interested for when roles arise and developing effective networks of talented individuals that you can tap into cost-effectively.
Additionally, you'll have an important role in developing processes to identify talent across the organisation and integrating them with succession planning and other HR activities such as performance management.
'I define, develop and implement the resourcing strategy and policies for the NHS Leadership programmes. I deliver a high-quality resourcing service that supports the strategic goals of the NHS, championing resourcing initiatives that continually drive and improve service levels. I have to develop and maintain efficient and cost-effective supply methods for candidate attraction, selection and assessment, and administration.
I am responsible for coordinating a team of over 20 staff across England to deliver the fast-track Leadership programmes for the NHS. These schemes received over 16,000 applications for the period 2009/10. I have helped the organisation win numerous awards for our approach to resourcing including the 2009 AGR Graduate Selection & Assessment Award and the 2010 CIPD Diversity Award. These Leadership programmes cover internships, graduate schemes, post-grad schemes and a diversity initiative.
At the same time, I am part of the senior management team and play an active leadership role in the wider organisation.'
Robert Farace, National Resourcing Manager, NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement
Back to top
Learning and talent development
Getting the best out of people and linking their skills and capabilities drives performance. It can also help people find their strengths and potential. That’s where learning and talent development (L&TD) comes in. L&TD specialists manage learning and potential. In this role, you may deliver activities as diverse as firearms training for police officers and mentoring programmes for fund managers. Or you could be involved in supporting managers in your business to act as a ‘coaches’ to their team.. L&TD specialists But it won’t just be about the delivery of these learning and talent development events. Having the analytical skills to evaluate the benefits to the business will be vital.
Learning and talent development professionals are concerned withinvolved in supporting, developing and accelerating learning in order to build agile and responsive organisations with the capability they need.to execute their chosen strategy.
'For me, the key elements of a successful L&TD function are:
- a deep understanding of the business strategy
- understanding the role the L&TD function can bring to deliver the learning elements of that strategy
- creating a learning plan to deliver the required outcomes that are clearly measureable and focused on business performance improvement.
- use this learning plan to deliver and reduce or eliminate 'discretionary spend'.
You need to ask yourself: what are the skills required for our business in the future? What are the skills we have today? The gap equals the learning plan and you must deliver against that.'
Peter Butler, Director of Learning, BT
Back to top
Organisations are constantly reinventing themselves. ‘Change-ready’ and agile businesses are best-placed to cope with the challenges of a fast-changing external environment. If you’re involved in organisation development (OD), you’ll have a crucial part to play in change management. You’ll also be maintaining the health of the organisation in the long term.
The change activities you lead or deliver could be about developing the organisation’s culture or the capability of its people. Or they may involve re-organisations and creating more effective and customer-focused processes. You'll also require a focus on how you communicate with employees. Additionally, you need to paint a picture, not just of what successful change will look like, but the risks and challenges that lie ahead.
Organisation development practitioners work in a planned and systematic way – diagnosing issues using relevant data. They consider the whole organisation and look to achieve sustained business performance by involving its people.
'As an OD practitioner, I am in tune with the head, the heart and the guts of the organisation. How we’re doing based on performance metrics (head); our emotional connection and whether we love how it is here through survey commentaries (heart); and how it sits with our centre of gravity – our personal and organisational value alignment (guts).
I specifically live out the role of connector, conductor and constructor:
- I connect people to causes and improvement activities and join in with the ventures of others;
- I conduct research into the latest thinking in development and deliver it to help our people do things better, sharper, quicker, deeper and with more purpose, and
- I am a constructor – building the latest frames and pathways that enable our talented people to achieve our ultimate aim – being a great place to work and making a real difference to the communities and lives of people most in need.
The irony behind OD sitting within HR as (sometimes) an unknown entity is that OD is all about human resources – an organisation’s people performing to potential!'
Perry Timms, Head of Talent & Organisational Development, BIG Lottery Fund
Back to top
Employee relations (ER) professionals have a wide-ranging brief to maintain and develop effective working relationships across the organisation. You’ll be looking to create a trust-based culture that drives long-term performance. To do this, you need a good understanding of what drives your organisation’s strategy, goals and performance. You’ll also need to speak the ‘language of the business’ and understand how people management drives organisation performance.
In practice, the job involves supporting line managers in motivating and engaging the workforce, treating people as individuals and ensuring fair access to opportunities. You may be involved in managing the organisation’s relationship with its trade unions and managing workplace conflict. A commitment to diversity and ensuring fairness in the workplace is an important part of employee relations. Another key aspect is supporting effective internal communications inside the organisation. Employees will perform best where they have a good understanding of the goals and purpose of the organisation. They’ll also be more motivated to deliver when they have the opportunity to feed their views upwards to senior management.
'My role is to give expert advice about the most complex HR matters, which covers off the legal risks, but also takes account of the organisation's culture, the business drivers, and the need to keep our employees engaged and committed to the firm. Finding an ER solution is often about understanding what makes people tick, and not just what the legal risks are. Often it is legally possible to implement a particular course of action, but the consequences to the business of disengaged employees can be significant in terms of retaining our employees, the quality of business, critical work they deliver and reputation, particularly as there is such a need for talent in the firm. One of the things I love about working in ER is that it requires an eye for detail alongside an ability to see the bigger picture both for individuals and for the organisation as a whole. My work can often be very reactive, dealing with problems as they arise. However, there are also opportunities for some project-based work, such as delivering training to up-skill the wider HR community, and ensuring internal policies keep pace with the changing legislative landscape and competitor benchmarking.'
Naomi Crossman, Solicitor, Employment Law Advisory Team, KPMG
Back to top
Employee engagement can sit alongside responsibilities for areas such as the employer ‘brand’ and internal communication. It also forms an important part of today’s employee relations roles. It’s about understanding what really makes your employees get out of bed in the morning – and what motivates them to go the extra mile when they get to work.
An ability to use quantitative and qualitative information is important. You’ll need to help develop and analyse surveys to measure the attitudes of the workforce and, for example, gauge their understanding of company values or the trust they have in senior management. You’ll also need to sense the ‘mood’ of the business. You might do this through informal and formal means, such as focus groups and workshops, to make connections and share insights with your management colleagues.
Building a successful business depends on making sure people understand and want to deliver the organisation’s objectives. Your analysis and advice will be vital here.
'You have to understand the drivers of employee engagement – what is the unique DNA that sets you apart? It’s easy to dismiss the management information that can give you real and unique insight. While you don’t want analysis paralysis, you do want deep and meaningful insight and you use this to create a compelling vision for your employees.'
Gill Hill, Senior Manager, Leadership and Development, Nationwide
Back to top
Performance and Reward
Performance and reward is about ensuring people’s skills, behaviours, values, attitudes and contribution to the success of their organisations are rewarded and recognised in a fair, market-based and cost-effective way. You’ll be involved in a wide range of reward activities such as establishing salary levels and allowances and managing pay relativities. You may create incentive and recognition schemes, establish the case for employee benefits, and manage the benefit package and evaluate its effectiveness. This is all part of the organisation’s aim to create and sustain a high-performance culture.
As well as being numerate and aware of legal and regulatory requirements, performance and reward specialists need to be able to communicate and educate employees and line managers about the reward strategy; work with colleagues in other departments to create a ‘joined-up ‘total reward’ approach and support people related programmes initiatives such as talent and diversity. You will need to identify and manage the risks around pay and benefits. You’ll be able to get involved in government consulations relating to reward. As well as taking part in public policy discussion and consultations on the subject , With issues on your agenda as important as pensions and bonuses,, you will also be involved in facilitating senior management discussion around the role of reward.
'The reward function plays a critical role in an organisation. You only have to look at how much money a company spends paying people and ask how well they would manage an external contract worth that much money. As a Head of Reward, my role is to develop and implement reward strategies that support the aims of the business and its people agenda. This covers aspects like positioning pay levels against the external market, developing salary frameworks that enable fair and equitable decisions, developing valued benefits offerings, and aligning reward and performance through incentive schemes. Along with technical reward skills, it's also really important to communicate well and engage the leadership, people managers and employees in reward, as only when reward is understood and valued will you start to get most return on the money spent. Personally, I love working in reward as it has a hard commercial edge and provides a great combination of operational delivery (such as salary review) with the chance to do some thought leadership.'
Samantha Gee, Director of Reward and Resourcing, Cancer Research UK
Back to top
Free careers guides