Understanding the Importance of HR

During the past 12-plus years, I have written over 100 articles on human resource management, and I've developed and delivered dozens of seminars on the subject. I've used my experience and extensive research on this very important management responsibility in my consulting business.

I'm not really sure how all of this evolved. I always saw myself as a pretty good HR manager, but stronger in the areas of marketing and financial management. I know I learned very early that people are the most important asset of virtually every business. I learned that firm, fair and consistent people management got results. I also learned that these same people wanted, needed and deserved rewards and recognition. And, as local, state and federal governments continued to implement laws and guidelines regarding how we had to treat employees, I recognized that I needed to learn and adhere to those laws or I could lose everything I had invested and worked hard to grow.

As I travel the U.S. and Canada, I am happy to report that more and more owners and managers of kitchen and bath firms are recognizing that a highly skilled and motivated work force is pivotal to success. In bottom line terms, employees represent the intellectual capital that can make or break a firm's ability to remain competitive.

As businesses have become more complex, so have the human resources functions. These now encompass everything from assessing staffing needs to launching effective training initiatives, interpreting federal and state codes, and implementing policies and benefits that safeguard workers while protecting company interests. And, the stakes are high! The legal and economic consequences of a major HR misstep can be disastrous.

Today's kitchen and bath dealers as well as their vendor, distributor and manufacturer representative partners need a practical and comprehensive HR plan. This plan should include information, insights, guidelines and tools to help align the firm's HR practices and policies with its overall business plan and objectives.

Anyone and everyone that is involved with the common HR functions of hiring, firing, benefits administration, job descriptions, performance evaluations, training, motivating and regulatory issues needs to become a strong human resource manager.

Growing Business
Very few of you became owners and managers of your businesses because you wanted to become accountants or HR managers. You wanted to design and sell beautiful kitchens and baths. But, the fact is, if you want to operate a successful, growing, profitable, fun business, you need to become a well-rounded manager.

Remember the three legged stool I keep referring to? If you want to have a strong, well-balanced stool, all three legs need to be of equal strength and length.

Every business is made up of three legs: financial management, marketing management and human resource management. Are all three of your business legs equally strong? If not, make a commitment right now to start strengthening the weak areas.

Here are several broad areas that I would like to challenge you to become proficient in:

1. Evaluate your company's current HR policies and practices to prepare for the business challenges of the next decadeand there will be a lot of them.

2. Be sure you understand the HR-related issues that will impact the work force of the future. Then, make the necessary long-term plans for success. (Changing demographics will be one big area of change).

3. Develop and implement an HR program that responds to the needs and resources of your company.

4. Interpret the key regulatory issues that affect every business owner and manager and thus be in a better position to guard against costly legal disputes.

5. Develop a strategic staffing mindset, ensuring that hiring practices and decisions are linked to long-term and short-term business objectives. Of course, first you need to identify those objectives.

6. Examine what today's most successful and progressive companies are doing especially those in the kitchen and bath industry with respect to orientation, training, benefits, performance management and discipline.

7. Gain insight into some of the new HR practices that are becoming basic components of today's "employee friendly" marketplace, such as flextime, telecommuting and cafeteria type benefit programs. Determine which ones might be right for your company and then administer them successfully and cost effectively.

Consider starting an HR "General Knowledge" binder in which you can file articles that address key HR issues. Over time, you will have a manual that you can easily read and refer to often.

Finding Balance
As the owner/manager of your business, one of your jobs is to focus on the practices and policies in your company that directly affect the welfare and morale of your company's most important asset your employees. It's up to you to help the company strike the optimum balance between the strategic needs of your business and the basic people needs of your team.

Striking this balance has never been easy. Most people would agree, however, that the task is not only harder to achieve than ever, it's also more important than ever.

For one thing, the market today for employees with the skills and knowledge that growing, technology-driven businesses require is competitive. Consequently, a company's 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 in the workplace, and the extent to which a company's practices help people balance the pressures they face at work with the pressures they have to deal with at home).

Kitchen and bath firms are lucky they are generally small businesses with 10 or fewer employees. It's much easier to develop a "family" environment and a true team spirit with smaller numbers than it is with a whole lot of folks.

The changing demographics of the work force is another factor to consider. The percentage of working mothers with children under six has jumped from less than 10% in 1970 to almost 35% in 2000. This helps explain why child care is now a highly requested benefit.

Another fact is that people are living longer today. Because of this, an increasing number of employees are taking on the responsibility of caring for their aging parents or other relatives.

This has introduced a new term to the benefits vocabulary: elder care.

Baby boomers, those 78 million Americans between the ages of 36 and 54, are starting to gray. Five thousand of them turn 50 every day. Many will retire from their regular jobs, but won't to be ready to stop working. This will open up a new resource for mature, experienced, dependable people to enter our kitchen and bath firms.

It's a fact that the "human" side of the work experience is no longer an issue that companies can afford to take for granted. That's why the HR function itself has begun to assume so much more business importance. Human Resources, in short, has become a business unto itselfand the principal asset of this particular business is people!

In future articles we will address the most common areas that fall under HR management including, but not limited to:

  • Staffing: Strategically determining, recruiting and hiring the human resources you need for your business.
  • Basic Workplace Policies: Orienting your staff on policies and procedures such as schedules, safety, security, dress, smoking/drugs/ alcohol, etc.
  • Motivation: The basics of rewarding and recognizing employees and raising the level of productivity and efficiency.
  • Communication: The use of verbal and written communication to enhance overall job performance.
  • Compensation and Benefits: Establishing effective and attractive wages and perks.
  • Training and Developing Employees: Ensuring that your staff grows in knowledge and experience to help your company grow and expand.
  • Regulatory Issues: Those things that your company must do to stay in compliance with the ever-increasing number of federal, state and local regulations.

Now that's an ambitious agenda. But the importance of the subject dictates that we follow through and take it very seriously. Our jobs and our businesses depend on it.

Many of these topics are also covered in my book, "How to Be a Better Manager a Human Resource Guide for Building Industry Professionals." It's an accumulation of 35 articles on various human resource subjects.

Readers of K&BDN interested in purchasing a copy can contact me at 2010 Granite Bar Way, Gold River, CA 95670.