Beyond Benefits: How HR Professionals Can Add Value

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Big Book of HR

In The Big Book of HR, the tome that I co-wrote with my fellow HR expert Cornelia Gamlem, our goal is to provide a complete guide to selecting, engaging, and retaining the best talent; developing attractive and fair compensation packages; and resolving conflict and maintaining good communication.

As we start 2013, it seems appropriate to reflect on the ideas we share in the first part of the book, “Selecting and Assimilating New Employees.”

Whether you are an HR professional just starting out in your career, or a manager or business owner who needs to gather information, the book is intended for anyone who works with people and who wants to maximize the impact his or her employees have to ensure the success of the organization.

You can count on business getting more complicated—it doesn’t ever seem to go the other way.

We know that managing people is not easy, so we’ve given you many tips and suggestions to help you master your job.

And, since things change so quickly, follow us on the web at for current information and a blog with updates on emerging HR trends and issues.

The Name of the Game

The HR profession has had many titles in recent decades: Industrial Relations, Personnel, and simply, HR.

Now, some organizations have invented new names including my favorite: Google’s “People Operations.”

With the shifting tide of titles, we’ve also seen our role and responsibilities shift.

Whereas HR used to be seen as solely administrative, professionals are actively involved in setting strategy. In fact, we are seen as critical players in shaping and achieving the mission, vision, and goals of the organization.

Indeed, HR employees can and should serve as advisors to organizational leadership to develop strategic workforce plans. In addition, HR partners who have line management expertise are able to best provide development opportunities that maximize the potential of each and every employee on staff.

Of course, HR continues to advise the company’s management team on total rewards programs (compensation and benefits), and rewards and recognition programs that maximize employee engagement and retention, are minimize costly employee turnover.

How can you best add real value to the organizations?

Too often HR professionals limit themselves by not actively participating in discussions around marketing, finance, and the operations of the organization. They speak up only when the discussion gets around to topics such as pay or benefits.

  • By understanding the business you are in—not just the HR part of the business.
  • By understanding the economics of business—how the organization is funded if it is a nonprofit, or how it makes money if it is a for-profit organization.
  • A fully functional HR professional, like any other business person, should be able to read and understand a profit-and-loss statement, create and manage to a budget, and understand profit centers.

Consider this:

The late Pam Farr, a brilliant and highly strategic HR executive at Marriott International, used to tell the story that she would time herself in senior leadership meetings. She would wait at least 20 minutes before bringing up an HR-related issue while all the time she would be actively engaged in the marketing or finance discussions.

This positioned her as a valued partner to the other executives who saw her first as a business colleague and then as the HR leader she was.

To really set yourself apart as an HR professional, think about how you can add value to your organization.

Can you:

  • Participate with understanding in discussions around your organization’s business objectives?
  • Find a way to do something more efficiently than it is currently being done?
  • Determine how people and processes can contribute to the bottom line?
  • Partner with other leaders in your organization to maximize efficiency?
  • Think strategically—anticipate challenges and resolve potential problems?
  • Ask the right questions to help your organization meet its goals and achieve its mission?
  • Lead change initiatives when required?
  • Communicate effectively in order to influence other leaders?
  • Demonstrate your proficiency in HR-related topics such as staffing, retention, compensation, benefits, total rewards, rewards and recognition, employee engagement, and employee relations?
  • Lead the organization in an ethical fashion?
  • Protect the organization and its employees from doing anything that is unethical?

Answering these questions will get you started. In next month’s column, we’ll discuss workforce planning and the step-by-step process you’ll want to use to develop a workforce plan. Stay tuned for that!

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013.

About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.