Home / Human Resources / What does HR do again?


by Paul Davis

Why HR is a mystery to others

In a recent survey of two large organisations, employees indicated that they knew what services IT offered, what Operations actually did, or how Purchasing can help them but the specifics of the HR department remained a mystery to many!

Why is it that a new employee can quickly grasp what to expect from IT or Operations but not their HR colleagues? While IT is more tangible and Operations is perceived as core function, HR might best be understood as the function that is seen but not heard.

Indeed, with the exception of training, much of the work HR does is invisible and complementary to achievements rather than the clincher of the results. HR is also an umbrella function – the home of an often eclectic assortment of offerings from recruitment to performance management, training to change management. In smaller organisations functions that do not seem to fit anywhere else often end up being housed with HR.

Is it little wonder that many employees and business teams still do not know exactly what to expect from their HR colleagues.

time exThe Services Catalogue

The solution to this seemingly perennial problem could be publishing a ‘services catalogue’. This is an excellent device that will advertise and promote HR services within sizeable multi-department organisations. It not only clarifies what internal customers can expect, it beams self-confidence about the HR capability and demonstrates the ‘willingness to support’ expected by our business partners. Services catalogues not only please internal customers, they are also superb quality assurance and knowledge management tools.

A services catalogue is essentially the same as any other catalogue in that it showcases a range of services which customers can select from. To be successful, catalogues must ensure that they offer services that their identified customer base actually desires and needs. For the HR team this means: understanding what their business partners expect from them; what additional services they have the means to offer; and what services they will need to offer to support future organisational development.

Information gathering

This information cannot be gathered in isolation from the business, only through consultation and knowing the business. Once you know what your internal customers/business partners want from you, your staff draft a list of all services they currently perform, all services they believe they should be performing and all services they would like to perform that fall within the scope of their role.

In teams such as L&D, recruitment and employee relations, staff then examine their capacity to deliver each service that their team has listed. Capacity can be measured through a combination of a person’s experience, knowledge, qualifications and resources. It is vital that any service which ends up in a services catalogue can be competently delivered.

Delivery Capacity

Also, identify which of the staff have the capacity to deliver those services – a kind of matching check once an internal client requires a particular service. The catalogue will require an administrator to update information as staff come and go from the organisation and as staff develop their capacity to deliver services. In this sense the catalogue also becomes a record of HR staff abilities and development needs as well as a quality assurance tool to support the services being delivered.

Once staff capability is measured against services identified, there will most likely be skills gaps. It could be that some services, which have previously been offered to the business, have not been supported by adequate capacity. It is also likely that some have qualifications or past experience which could be a great benefit to the business that nobody knew about. Some services could be offered more widely because of excess capacity and some services may require quick upskilling of staff to continue to offer them.
Development Blueprint

Measuring capacity against service deliverables will automatically provide a strategic blueprint for the professional development of staff. Every course that a HR staff member attends will now be aligned to supporting the goals of the business in a demonstrable and quantifiable way. The training budget can now be prioritised rather than allocated ad-hoc to those who submit requests for development.

The skills audit will reveal where there is the greatest need for learning and development. No more struggling to justify to a staff member why their request for training was declined; the services catalogue becomes an impartial umpire. If someone desires training they must justify their request in terms of the services catalogue.

Once a list of services that can be delivered has been compiled the catalogue can be prepared. Each service or product is given a number for ease of ‘ordering’ much like a restaurant menu. The service or product is then listed in a single line and perhaps a couple of lines as a descriptor, something like this:

Learning and Development – Short Courses

106 Two day course in
Presentation skills
Learn to prepare and deliver basic reports
in the business setting


The services catalogue is highly versatile. It can be loaded on to the organisation’s intranet, handed to new employees on disc or, of course, exist as a hard copy reference tool in the corporate library. It is a device that will require regular updating.

To promote this great innovation to your organisation, have an official launch. One idea which has worked elsewhere is to greet staff as they enter the building with a coffee and muffin during winter and hand out a few pages from the catalogue to illustrate its usefulness. It is a tremendous way to showcase HR’s commitment to the business – particularly if you are a new HR manager coming into an organisation.

To date, very few organisations have embraced the concept of a services catalogue so it will appear fresh, innovative and an especially practical way to demystify HR Services to the business at large.

Dr. Paul Davis is internationally recognised as a thought leader in strategic HR and its contribution to organisational development.

Paul can be contacted through The Training Link on 1300 88 44 33

Print This Article

The Training Link supports and encourages the dissemination and exchange of information. You may use any of The Training Link content for your personal, non-commercial use or use within your organisation for non-commercial purposes, providing that you acknowledge The Training Link as the publisher and provide a link to the relevant page of the website.