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Should HR be Internal or External Facing?
published by , on 25/04/2009

A recent benchmarking discussion in the office raised the question of whether HR should be internal and/or external facing.

As the discussion progressed it became clear that certain departments in organisations really only face one way, maybe not exclusively, but predominantly they focus either in or out. Operations for example focus on internal operations: getting the work done. Sales and Marketing focus outside: checking out competitors, the market place and working with customers to bring in the orders. The point of focus for both is on their deliverable.

Mostly, this is a good thing. We know that maintaining focus is core to a businesses success in many situations. However, this external focus may also have the potential to make them blinkered to what is happening inside the businessas a while and indeed, their own department.

internal_external.jpgNow, how did we get into this discussion if we were talking about benchmarking? Because all too often companies want to compare how they are doing against their competitors, how their products stack up against them and worringly, sometimes how their employees stack up too. With the volume and complexity of information out there this means that an HR manager could spend all week just looking at other companies information. (Don’t under estimate just how much there is out there!)

But beyond this problem of good use of time, as someone with an HR background, herein lies the problem for me: You are comparing apples with pears and that just doesn’t work. No two companies are the same and certainly no two employees are the same. So why would they think and behave in the same way?

So how should an HR manager deal with the data that’s available from outside their organisation? And then with the issue of whether they should be inward or outwardly focused – or, to be precise, how much they should be dealing with each? It’s all about balance.

Here’s the way I see it.

Despite the fact that HR’s responsibility is primarily about what goes on inside the company, there does need to be an awareness of outside factors, for example the wider economy and its impact on the job market, local resources, salary levels, employment legislation, and much more. They also need to consider the external brand and reputation of the company as a prospective employer. External focus should help inform decisions that affect the current and future performance of the organisation.

However, I believe that the HR focus should be on the internal organisation (but with an eye to the outside, as a sanity check). In order to keep delivering value to the organisation, HR must work in harmony with all departments to ensure they are meeting the needs of their customers, but their primary focus should always be internal.

Unlike some other departments, for HR internal and external focus are not as clearly defined. There will always be responsibilities which require them to balance and impress in both areas. To deliver HR needs to consider carefully the weight it gives to internal and external focus and strike a balance that meets the needs of their organisaton.

[Tip: HR managers should take an active part in local HR networks to help give them perspective on external factors and share experience with other HR managers to help them formulate the best strategy and business plan for their organisation.]

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