A Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and Economist Intelligence Unit study of 500-plus HR and non-HR executives – in which 5% were Canadian – revealed that more than 85% of those surveyed believe people are important to all aspects of organizational performance.

Although senior executives see “people issues” as important, they’re not sure HR can step up to meet the challenge. Only about one quarter believe HR “plays a crucial role in strategy formulation and operational success.” A mere 3% of those surveyed said their organizations’ capabilities are world class in terms of people management and HR, whereas 46% said they are only “adequate” and need to improve.

Margot Thom, a partner with Deloitte Canada, said HR is not really seen as a strategic business partner within a company, but rather a cost centre or an administrative function. When non-HR executives talk about HR, Thom said, they focus on things such as benefits or performance evaluations, but when they talk about people issues, they focus on strategic challenges such as talent management or leadership development. “In many cases the HR function isn’t even mentioned,” she said.

However, the study does indicate that both HR and non-HR executives believe HR’s role will change. Eighty-two per cent expect HR to be seen as a “strategic, value-adding function” over the next three to five years.

Addressing people issues is important to a company’s long-term success, said Thom. “It’s not just about giving HR a seat at the strategy table. It’s about making sure people issues are at the table to begin with – and that the right combination of voices from business and HR are heard.”

To comment on this story email brooke.smith@rci.rogers.com.