Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | August 1, 2011

HR Concepts: The HR Role in Competition

By Mike Deblieux, SPHR-CA

Think for a minute about your favorite department store, coffee shop, or hair salon. Why is it your favorite? Why do you go there? Is it the location, a particular product, or a friendly, engaged, professional individual or team to help you? Perhaps you answered that it is a combination of all of those factors. But change one, just one – the employee you interact with the most. Change him or her from friendly, engaged, and professional to unfriendly, disengaged, and unprofessional. Would you go back? Most people answer no. In other words, that employee changed the competitive advantage that drew you to the store or shop.

A competitive organization develops a laser focus on being more efficient and effective than their competitors. Being competitive is a key goal for almost every organization.  Being competitive depends on a well-designed and well-functioning workforce. HR plays a key role in every element of marketplace competitiveness from job design to exit interviews. Let’s look at two of them.

Job Design
Many factors play into creating a competitive workforce. Job design is one of them. In a noncompetitive organization, a manager justifies the need for a position. Once it is approved HR initiates a recruitment. In a competitive organization, HR facilitates a discussion and an objective analysis about what the job will do and how it will do it. The ensuing healthy debate questions old assumptions, practices, and habits. It seeks a combination of job duties, responsibilities, and working conditions that add to a competitive advantage.

In its simplest form, job design involves organizing the work and responsibilities of a position. In a competitive organization, it involves questioning and analyzing factors such as:

• Skill Variety – How many different talents are required to do the job? Too often, jobs are designed for a rare super person who excels at everything from the most complex to the most routine.

• Job Enlargement – How many different tasks does the job involve? In the interest of saving money, an incumbent may be expected to do so many different things that all are done with great mediocrity.

• Task Identity – Is there a clear starting and ending point for work? Employees usually feel a greater sense of job satisfaction when they own an identifiable part of a job.

• Task Significance – How much impact does the work have on others? Employees are generally more engaged when they see a relationship between their efforts and the value it brings to end-users.

• Autonomy – How much freedom does the employee have to make decisions, take actions, or make changes? Some jobs require an employee to do exactly what they are told, when they are told to do it. Other jobs require an employee to work in the absence of direction or supervision.

• Performance Feedback – What is the role of feedback in increasing the competitive contributions of the employee? In an animated movie studio, for example, feedback may be provided on a daily basis by the production team. In an accounting firm, feedback may be provided at the end of each key engagement.

Job design is an important HR concept that is all too often taken for granted or even ignored. It requires an HR professional with effective working relationships with line managers, excellent facilitation skills, in-depth knowledge of the work of a business unit, and a commitment to contributing to the competitive strength of an organization.

Productivity and Loyalty
Employees bring a unique set of life experiences and career expectations to the workplace. The chemistry that develops between the organization and each individual directly impacts the competitive position of an organization. HR plays a key role in the elements of the chemistry.

A productive employee adds to the competitive advantage of a firm. A productive employee expects to be valued for their contributions, engaged in finding the best way to do their work, and part of a collaborative working relationship. A productive employee is almost always a happy employee who is committed to the success of the organization.

Commitment grows out of how closely an individual aligns with the direction and values of an organization. It comes from a personal perspective on the importance of staying with or leaving an organization. And, importantly, it depends on a sense of equity that the employee feels between their efforts and the rewards offered by the organization (i.e., work/life balance, recognition, treatment, compensation, etc.).  An HR professional in a competitive organizations pay close attention to how these factors affect productivity and loyalty.

Productivity and loyalty grow out of small, sometimes seemingly disconnected actions. In one highly competitive organization, the CEO personally calls each newly hired employee to welcome them to the company shortly after they accept the job offer – and sometimes to help key recruits make the final decision to accept the offer. In another competitive organization new employees are welcomed in the lobby by their manager who is waiting there for them early on their first day of employment. In yet another highly competitive organization, HR works with building designers and architects to assure that work areas add to employee satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty. For example, restrooms, break areas, and conversation pods are located at the center of the building to maximize informal contact and conversations throughout the workday.

Productivity is a function of a wide range of factors. It starts with relationships. Few if any jobs are done in isolation. Competitive organizations work tirelessly at starting, fostering, and valuing working relationships. HR creates opportunities to build relationships. In one organization, HR created an “advocate” program to encourage managers to look for opportunities to connect employees across departmental lines. It includes front-line supervisors who see employee development as a priority. HR plays a significant role in creating management training programs that reinforce the role and responsibility of front-line leaders to create an opportunity for each employee to be successful. And, productivity grows from regular timely, specific, sincere feedback that guides future performance. HR facilitates the feedback process by establishing policies and practices that support productivity. In one organization, for example, HR established a program to reward managers for frequent one-on-one meetings, high ratings on employee feedback for their on-going coaching efforts, and the success of their new hires.

Human Resources is defined as the process of designing and implementing formal systems to allow an organization to make efficient and effective use of human talent to achieve organizational goals. Successful organizations demand that those systems help to create a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Designing those systems depends on an HR professional who understands the psychological contract of employment, motivation, job design, and the role of HR maximizing the competitive advantage of their employer.

Mike Deblieux, SPHR-CA, designs and presents on-site seminars and workshops for front-line workplace leaders. He provides coaching support for supervisors and supports HR professionals through special projects to help their organizations achieve strategic goals. Mike writes HR Concepts to help HR professionals better understand and use fundamental HR principles. Share your feedback on this article with Mike at



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: