Putting The H Back In HR

How can Human Resources (HR) offer support and create programs that help employees do better at their jobs and stay happy enough to remain at an organization for the long term?

When your managers and employees alike groan at the sight of an e-mail from Human Resources (HR), you know you’re in trouble. And that’s the case at many, if not most, companies. Communications from HR often mean mandatory training that needs to be completed by a certain date; performance reviews; and myriad legal forms that have to be signed, scanned, and sent back.

The question is whether required actions and paperwork should be the primary concern of Human Resources, or whether it should be humans. Compliance and checking off that necessary training has been completed has its purpose, but how can HR offer support and create programs that help employees do better at their jobs, and stay happy enough to remain longer than a year? Several companies shared with Training how HR can do more to meet employee expectations.

Focus on Employee Experience

At Kraft Heinz, the priority of HR executives is on the employees themselves rather than on the completion of paperwork. The company feels so strongly about putting an emphasis on its people, rather than processes, that it launched a 2019 global initiative about it. “The goal is to examine 12 different pillars of the employee experience (onboarding, career development, life events, technology, etc.), define the desired benchmarks for each pillar, and standardize the Kraft Heinz experience for every employee across the globe. This also will further strengthen the unique Kraft Heinz culture that our People & Performance team is proud to preserve and protect,” says Kraft Heinz Chief People Officer for the U.S. Lisa Alteri.

A key part of making HR work for both the company and workforce is educating employees about why the HR processes help them do their jobs better, and be more fulfilled at the company. “At Kraft Heinz, we have a quarterly performance appraisal cycle as part of our Management by Objectives (MBO) program,” Alteri explains. “This would seem time consuming and redundant if we failed to properly educate both employees and their managers on how to prepare for, engage in, and follow up on these important conversations. Once that routine is achieved, employees reap the benefit of regular feedback and career development conversations that allow them to close performance and capability gaps quicker than if done once or twice a year.”

In addition to performance reviews, Kraft Heinz keeps tabs on employee feelings by going directly to the source. An annual employee engagement survey is sent to all employees globally every November, with results that inform decision-making at the top of the organization. “The anonymous results are analyzed by each business unit/function, then translated into robust action plans owned by our business leaders. It’s a full company effort, and one we take seriously,” Alteri says.

Employees at Kraft Heinz not only are given a sense that their feelings are heard—their achievements also are recognized both inside and outside of work. “Kraft Heinz has a strong culture based on meritocracy. It is enhanced by our commitment to recognize employees for not only exceptional performance, but also for being strong ambassadors of our company values and vision: To Be the Best Food Company, Growing a Better World,” Alteri explains. She points to the winner of the company’s 2019 Kraft Heinz Hero Award, Henry McElroy, who was recognized for helping hundreds of children as a youth minister. “Henry and his entire family were recognized publicly at the US Zone Convention with an all-expenses-paid family vacation to Florida, along with a $10,000 donation to the ‘Dream Center’ program at Canton, OH’s Trinity Gospel Temple in Henry’s name. The presentation was incredibly heartfelt and there were many tears in the audience!”

Kraft Heinz also does its best to accommodate the family needs of employees. Two employee-focused improvements it is especially proud of are its Paid Parental Lead program, which was enhanced in 2018, and its New Parent Phase-In Program, which allows new primary caregivers the option to work a reduced schedule for up to 30 days following the end of the leave period to ease their transition back to work. “This year, we’ll continue to make progress in this space by launching a comprehensive Kraft Heinz employee site dedicated to providing new parent resources, along with the New Parent Network, which will match interested parents-to-be with volunteer parent mentors within the business to provide an added layer of support and community,” says Alteri. “As a working parent myself, I would have been thrilled to have these resources when I had my daughter!”

Enable Flexibility

HR can have the reputation of being strict in how processes are done, and unbending in conforming to rules and established protocols, but some forward-thinking companies take a different approach.

At Training Top 125er Workiva, HR adapts to the needs of employees rather than the other way around. “Our HR team is flexible, which enables us to adapt to employee needs when they might deviate from our established processes. From the moment the offer letter is accepted, we work with the new employee and his or her manager to ensure the new employee is set up for success with access to the tools, resources, and information he or she will need on day one,” says Emily Forrester, VP of Human Resources. “Each new hire is assigned a Launch Pilot (a ‘buddy’ to help them get settled and up to speed as the new hire is onboarding), so he or she gets the personal attention needed to get started in the most positive way possible.”

In many organizations, HR is known more for its red tape than it ability to accommodate, so Workiva has made a special effort to do the opposite. “We have worked diligently in HR to minimize red tape and administrative overhead. Workiva has always strived to practice HR in a more employee-centric way by putting employees’ needs first whenever that is possible,” says Forrester. “To do this, we have placed many processes into managers’ and employees’ hands so action can be taken quickly. With a focus on doing what is right for employees, we’ve provided structure with flexibility that can be applied based on the individual circumstance or need.”

Workiva also ensures communication between HR and employees works both ways, with employee suggestions and opinions taken seriously. “To demonstrate this, Workiva boasts a long list of employee-driven initiatives that have become a standard part of our culture and benefits package,” says Forrester. “These include the Workiva Diversity and Inclusion Committee; bikes provided for employee use at offices around the country; sustainability initiatives to lessen the carbon footprint of the company; paid parental leave; and volunteer initiatives that offer employees paid time off to volunteer in their communities.”

More than Just Employees

Some companies give the impression that they think of employees as cogs in a giant machine. Making HR more attuned to human needs means showing employees that you’re conscious of their life outside of the company, and that work can make meeting those needs challenging, says Charles Bonello, CEO and cofounder of Vivvi, a provider of on-site and nearsite child care for businesses. “Too often, people hear or say, ‘It’s just about business,’” Bonello notes. “To us, that means that business is really bad. By working with employers from companies of all sizes to provide on- or near-site child care at a fraction of the cost, we allow employers to benefit from the single most effective recruiting, retention, and productivity tool in existence.”

Bonello says most people who go into HR do so to help people, but end up overseeing bureaucratic processes and paperwork because their company is giving HR short shrift. “When HR exists in a silo, or is treated as a cost center, inevitably it fails to achieve those goals,” he says. “When it’s empowered—with decision-making and budget—and when there are robust conversations about how to make things better, then it serves its goals. Employees really want to be heard by their employers, and want benefits that support their actual lives. Work-life balance doesn’t exist anymore—it’s about work-life integration.”

Identify Areas for Improvement

Just as some organizations make an effort to survey employees about job satisfaction and level of engagement, some companies also recognize the need to get input from those who are leaving. “One item we excel at is consistency in exit interviews,” says Greg Ruffino, director of Training at Training Top 125er Williams & Fudge. “We capture approximately 90 percent exit interview rates with departing staff members. The questions are designed to extract areas of improvement for us, in addition to a general understanding of the employee experience to help us grow and improve,” he says. “In addition, there are anonymous surveys presented to the staff via their departments or sent out office-wide. These generate a great view of the company culture and employee needs to which we can make adjustments if necessary.”

To make the employee experience so high quality and engaging that they won’t want to leave in the first place, Williams & Fudge offers access to an in-house life coach, whose services are advertised during new hire orientation and throughout the year on multiple company-wide platforms. “Within the HR department, there is a dedicated and private room where the staff can meet with the life coach,” Ruffino explains. “The purpose is to meet the one-on-one needs of the staff in a safe and confidential manner. These sessions can include a mix of personal and professional topics of discussion. The content of these conversations is strictly confidential to ensure the privacy of the staff member.”

Employees Are Consumers, Too

In a society in which you can tap a star icon on your phone to rate the performance of everything from hotels to car services, it’s no wonder employees expect more. As you collect data from engagement surveys and exit interviews, be mindful of optimizing that data, says Jill Goldstein, global practice lead, Talent and HR Operations, Accenture. “While we are all employees, we need to remember we are also all consumers, and as consumers, we’ve come to expect a premier standard of service. Much of that comes from the way companies such as Amazon or Netflix have revolutionized how to anticipate and service the needs of their customers,” explains Goldstein. “Employees have come to expect this same level of service in the workplace. Like those companies, the best way to deliver high-quality HR services is to anticipate the needs of employees using data analytics as your guide. HR professionals should take a hard look at their existing collection of employee metrics to unearth trends and predictive insights. Then, they should marry that data with the qualitative insights they garner from surveys and focus groups. This approach will ensure an organization has the most well-rounded understanding of its employees and the type of services they need.”

Like consumers, employees should be able to easily see the value-add provided by their company’s HR. “Ideally, HR is the engine empowering the people of an organization to thrive and grow. HR helps employees do their job to the best of their ability in creative, thoughtful ways, and mitigates challenges that arise in their professional or personal lives,” says Goldstein. “HR acts as a trusted advisor, advocating, anticipating, and empathizing with employees and managers about their well-being. An advisor solves problems, rather than simply triaging them.”

Constant Communication and Engagement

Maintaining HR that keeps employees at the center of its efforts requires communication with those employees. Training Top 125er Windham Professionals, Inc., makes an effort to do just that, says Senior Vice President of Human Resources Cherie Sugg. “We offer a variety of employee engagement activities and communications.” These include, but are not limited to:

  • A monthly newsletter ENGAGEhr featuring a leader, site, or special event
  • Celebrating new hires, anniversaries, birthdays
  • Providing kudos to employees of the month
  • Showcasing employee engagement and wellness activities throughout the organization (i.e., Dream Maker program, fundraising for charities, cancer walks, awareness campaigns such as breast cancer, Wear Red Month, sports games, Habitat for Humanity, health recipes, etc.)

Along with employee recognition and the involvement of employees’ families in company events, Windham has turned its Performance Management Program into more than just an annual performance review process. Employees are provided with annual goals and performance reviews and mid-year goal and performance discussions. “This allows for two-way discussions and ensures feedback is provided on a more formal basis,” says Sugg. “We also sponsor a company Safety Committee, Wellness Committee, and a Windham Events Committee. Employees throughout the organization are encouraged to take a seat and participate in such committees. Their input is important to program successes.”


  • Educate employees on why HR enforces formalized processes such as performance reviews, so they understand the context of the extra tasks being asked of them.
  • Recognize employee achievement inside and outside the office, showing you appreciate the work they do on behalf of your customers, and also the work they do in their communities.
  • Implement employee engagement surveys, and respond to the results, making specific changes based on employee feedback.
  • Consistently conduct exit interviews, pinpointing needed areas of organizational improvement.
  • Remember that employees are consumers, too, and they expect a company that takes the data they provide to make changes that better accommodate their needs.
  • Enable flexibility. Rather than wrapping unnecessary process around employee needs, find ways to make HR more adaptable, so it becomes a help, rather than a hindrance.
  • Accommodate a need for work-life integration. Show you understand employees are more than just employees, and they need benefits such as paid parental leave and on-site or near-site child care.

    HR’s Role in Managing Change

    By Michael McGowan, Managing Director and Practice Leader, Leadership & Talent, BPI group

    BPI group recently talked with 13 global companies across nine industries (from $200 million to $50 billion in revenues) to determine their approaches to the delivery of human capital management services. 

    Most of the companies surveyed indicated a lack of integration and efficiencies in managing change for their organizations, with four key concerns rising to the surface: 

    1. Determining HR’s value proposition to the organization

    2. Creating a strategy and prioritizing within it

    3. Identifying gaps in HR effectiveness 

    4. Creating a service delivery model that is easy to use, more agile, and integrated across the business

    HR’s Value Proposition 

    A good practice for any HR department seeking improvements is to first establish the value HR brings to the organization. Not surprisingly, when asked “Why does HR exist?” the majority of study respondents focused on people as the organization’s greatest asset. HR professionals see themselves as stewards for the employee lifecycle from onboarding to exit, and as ambassadors for the organization’s culture.

    In addition, half of respondents discussed achieving organizational strategy through people strategy, helping align the two and serving as trusted advisors to both the organization and its people. 

    Strategize and Prioritize

    The study revealed that many organizations struggle to be best-in-class in all different areas of HR, given limited resources, time, and budget. With that in mind, it pays to be highly strategic about where priorities are placed in order to optimize investment, reduce redundancy, and ensure alignment and integration. This starts with a clear understanding of what the business as a whole is trying to achieve, and identifying the role talent strategy plays in achieving those goals.

    The challenge for most HR teams and organizations is to have a talent plan and a process that is continuous, agile, and embedded in the business strategy.Many of the organizations responding to the survey scored themselves as highly effective in functional areas of HR (such as payroll, benefits, and rewards), while lacking in more strategic, higher-priority areas, such as agility and efficiency, leadership and talent development, and business alignment.

    HR needs to conduct regular reviews of current and future states (scenario planning) of the marketplace, business, and changing talent landscape to be more proactive in preparing for a constant state of change.


    When it comes to HR service delivery models, 80 percent of the companies surveyed combine high-touch service with self-service (or more automated) solutions that help save time and money.

    To begin the process of designing an optimal delivery model, HR should review what’s working, what’s not, and what can be improved. For example, a company might already have a learning management system in place, but if it’s cumbersome or no one knows how to use it, a new approach should be considered.

    There is no one definition for high-touch service, but it must be defined to fit employees’ needs and the needs of the business. A business should seek both accuracy and responsiveness to employees, but it should not be assumed that a human being must be in the room to make this happen. 

    Changes in an Evolving Industry

    These factors all should be considered against a backdrop of a rapidly changing industry in which HR departments have been delayered and become flatter. Going forward, HR will have an increasingly weighty role in most organizations and, therefore, should continually seek to offer valuable strategic input into the direction of the organization, while at the same time achieving a balance of personalized and automated solutions for employees.



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