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Human resource experts under valued by business

HUMAN resource professionals like to think of themselves as strategic business partners, but the significance of their role appears to be lost on small to medium enterprises.

A joint Curtin University of Technology and University of Western Sydney research team late last year surveyed 120 CEOs from SMEs throughout Australia, about the roles, functions and overall contribution of their HR specialists.

Respondents came from sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and retail, wholesale trade, property and business services, transport and storage. Sixty per cent of the companies were wholly Australian-owned. Eighty-six per cent had a specialist HR function.

Our findings suggest, contrary to other studies, that HR professionals are not perceived by SMEs as strategic partners or change agents.

Only 39 per cent of respondents describe the function as HR management – titles range from personnel manager or employment manager to industrial relations manager, likely reflecting CEOs’ perceptions of the incumbents’ value and the remuneration they receive.

Only 42 per cent of CEOs involved their HR professionals in deciding business strategies, and only 14 per cent consider HR practitioners as a strategic partner. More than 20 per cent of CEOs believe the main role of HR management is “hands-on” administration.

Forty-seven per cent of CEOs said they never involved their HR professionals in the choice of change management pro-grams and only 33 per cent of CEOs consulted them before implem-entation. HR practitioners are most likely to participate if the program involves redund-ancies (71 per cent) and least likely to participate if it involves the business plan (42 per cent).

The CEOs surveyed said their HR professionals largely performed such traditional activities as redundancy, remuneration, career planning, staffing and the preparation of job descriptions – activities that sit more appropriately with “personnel administration”.

This emphasis is reflected in the use of human resource information systems that focus on payroll administration (56 per cent), employee records (52 per cent) and staffing data (25 per cent), rather than more strategic or business planning purposes.

These findings suggest that there is still a long way to go until the SME sector recognises and utilises more appropriately the capacities and expertise of their HR professionals in the pursuit of business objectives.

n Alan Nankervis is a senior lecturer in HR management at the School of Manage-ment, Curtin University of Technology.

Tel: 9266 7413

E-mail: NankeruA@cbs.curtin.edu.au)

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