Human Resources Functions Continue to Evolve

Every business is comprised of three major management areas: financial management, marketing management and human resource management. The owners and managers of today’s businesses must be equally strong in all three areas.

Being a good – really good – people manager is a learned art and skill. There’s a lot to it.

Large companies have separate departments headed up by trained professional human resource managers who are dedicated to handling this part of a successful business. The kitchen and bath industry, made up of several thousand small (20 or fewer employees) companies, often does not have the luxury of hiring a specialist to manage the different segments of the business. So, generally, the owner ends up doing everything. Owners who recognize that they must become well-rounded professional managers have been and will be the survivors in this increasingly competitive marketplace.

Employees represent the intellectual capital that can make or break a firm’s ability to remain competitive. People are your most important asset – but if they are not well managed, they can also be a liability.

As business becomes more complex, so does the human resource function. Today, this encompasses everything from addressing staffing needs more strategically to launching effective training initiatives, interpreting federal and state/provincial codes and implementing policies and benefits that safeguard workers while protecting company interests. The legal and economic consequences of a major human resource misstep can be enormous.

For many kitchen and bath owners, human resource management is an intimidating prospect. Most of you would agree that being sensitive to, and doing your best to meet the “people needs” of your employees, is in your best interest as an employer. However, debate exists concerning just how much responsibility a company must assume with respect to those people needs, and how much time and money a company must devote to the needs and priorities of employees, as opposed to those of its business operations and customers.

As owner/manager, your job is to focus on the practices and policies in your company that directly affect the welfare and morale of your most important asset – your employees. It’s up to you to help your company strike the optimum balance between the strategic needs of your business and the basic needs of your employees. This task is not only harder than ever before, it’s also more important than ever before.

For one thing, the market for the employees with the skills and knowledge that growing technology-driven businesses require is extremely competitive today. Consequently, your ability to attract good employees relates more closely than ever to the “human” side of the day-to-day working experience (the general atmosphere that prevails at the workplace) and the extent to which your company practices help people balance the pressures of work and home.

HR Functions

Whether you call it “human resource management” or “personnel administration,” this important facet of business is generally described as “the decisions, activities and processes that must meet basic needs and support the work performance of employees.”

The most common areas that fall under human resource management include:

  • Staffing: Strategically determining, recruiting and hiring the people to help operate your business.
  • Basic Work Place Policies: Orienting your staff on policies and procedures such as schedules, safety and security.
  • Compensation and Benefits: The salary, commissions and bonuses and company services that ensure your staff stays with you and grows in knowledge and expertise to help your company grow.
  • Regulatory Issues: What your company must do to stay in compliance with the ever-increasing number of federal, state/provincial and local regulations.

Most small business owners function as the human resource manager. They also contribute over 50% of the design/sales function; do purchasing; handle marketing, and dozens of other daily chores. But as the HR, manager you are responsible for hiring/firing of employees, researching compensation and benefit packages, writing paychecks and keeping appropriate records, training and developing employees and communicating with them. There is so much to do – and so little time to get it done effectively!

So how do you accomplish this? First, become a student of the subject. Buy books and CDs and attend workshops. Get online, talk to others and learn everything you can about the subject.

Additionally, I have a number of consulting clients that have gone the route of “outsourcing” this function. This is a growing trend and it can be a huge help and benefit to small business owners. Engage an outsider to help administrate operational functions, such as payroll and the benefits package. They can also advise on almost any human resource issue that may arise. There are a number of outsourcing companies that specialize in small business HR needs.

Future HR Trends

There have been more changes in HR management in the past 20 years than in the 100 years before that – and the changes in the next 10 years will be just as dramatic.

Your number one challenge will likely be managing change. The biggest contribution you can make in the HR area is to become a true catalyst for change in your organization. You may be a one-person management team, but it will be up to you to envision the kind of changes that will take place and adapt to those changes in a timely manner. Here are a few of the changes taking place today:

  1. Telecommuting and the Virtual Office: More and more employees are performing some or all of their work from home.
  2. Flextime: Modifying the normal 8-5 work schedule to accommodate working moms and others will be increasingly important to attract and retain key employees.
  3. Longer Careers: More people are working past the normal retirement age of 65. This is a very good thing. They bring a lot of talent and experience to the job.
  4. Workforce Diversity: In my lifetime, I’ve seen the workforce change from 90% male dominated to 50/50 male/female split. Additionally, our employees come from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. In the future, you’ll likely be managing a work force that encompasses different genders, cultural backgrounds, ages and lifestyles – at a time when companies are moving away from the old style of management and replacing it with a more open, empowered and team-oriented approach to decision making. The challenge to companies in general, and HR professionals in particular, is not to simply adapt to diversity, but to capitalize on it.

Many kitchen and bath firms are discovering that they are competing in a much different marketplace than they were 20 years ago. Customers and workforces are better educated and more diverse. Be smart and use this to your competitive advantage.

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