After brutal rounds of layoffs, HR departments at many Canadian organizations are now focused on optimizing their talent pools and increasing communications. However, HR professionals should also be asking themselves specific questions about their role in the organization, according to an expert.

Speaking at the 2009 HR Transformation conference in Toronto on Tuesday, Robert Zampetti, a principal with Towers Perrin, explained how the recent economic volatility has affected workers who have managed to hold on to their jobs.

“Employees see their own fate as intertwined with that of their employer, and they’re willing to accept some individual hardship,” he said. “However, engagement levels are trending down, which could impact productivity in a negative way, and employees are looking to their leaders for clarity as to where the organization is heading.”

According to Zampetti, research from Towers Perrin indicates that the lion’s share of layoffs is behind us, and employers are now focused on how to maximize the efficiency of their leaner workforces.

“For 2009, the trend is not to have across-the-board headcount reductions. It’s about targeted, optimized changes to make the organization more efficient.”

Balancing cost savings with talent needs is one of the main areas that managers should be concentrating on, he explained. To achieve this, Zampetti suggested seven questions that HR management should ask.
• Do we have the right people with the right skills?
• Are they doing the right things?
• Is our workforce structured to deliver value?
• Are we optimizing our investments in the workforce?
• Do we have a work environment that will attract, retain and engage talent?
• Do we have sufficient current/future leadership capability?
• Is the HR function delivering value?

“In today’s economic climate, how can HR respond to the challenge?” he asked. Stripping permanent capabilities back to the core fundamentals and focusing on key outcomes—not inputs—is a good start, he explained. Also, allocating work based on proven competence, focusing on flexibility and considering outsourcing in certain situations can help HR departments become more nimble and adaptive.

Zampetti also offered his vision of HR in the future, in which the traditional duties of HR departments are spun off to more efficient and targeted processes. HR would focus on its core responsibilities and any non-core functions would be outsourced, while conventional HR specialization would become change management, and organized units would become virtual teams.

To illustrate how the business world has changed for HR professionals, Zampetti described the new expectations that they must face.

“Organizations are no longer willing to spend six-to-twelve months creating an actionable strategy, which would have been considered a good time frame a year ago,” he said. “As it currently stands, HR may not be sufficiently prepared to adapt quickly.”

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