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Thu 15 Nov 2007 12:57 PM

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Use it or lose it: the importance of good HR

There is no doubt about it, the human resources industry has an image problem that needs to be addressed.

The butt of many a corporate joke, these hard working professionals are often relegated to small back offices where their activities, viewed as little more than administrative functions, are carried out without much recognition. But in an increasingly aggressive corporate world, where every competitive edge counts, leading organisations would do well to recognise the human potential that can be unleashed by adopting effective human resource management strategies that realise the potential of employees and earn their respect and loyalty.

Dealing with the mundane personal matters of corporate life has traditionally been seen as the sole purpose of the HR department. From hiring workers and providing transportation and meals services, to processing housing, medical and insurance benefits, the functions of HR professionals have been recognised as essential, but have not always inspired respect for those involved in executing them.

Essentially, people remain the strongest and most competitive assets of a business.

This should, and is, changing. In a region where business growth is rapid, and organisations are competing to secure talent from the same pool, investing in and revering effective HR departments to find, train and help retain this talent is increasingly important. Testament to the fact many companies in the region are now recognising the value of developing their human resources, Abu Dhabi recently hosted the Middle East Human Resource Summit - the annual conference and exhibition for industry professionals. But can everyone be persuaded to take real action in developing their HR departments?

Those that do will not be in poor company. Some of the most well-known companies in the world have been recognised for their investment in human resource management including Unilever, Pepsi, Shell, General Electric, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard.

Dave Ulrich, professor of business at the US's University of Michigan, and a keynote speaker at the Middle East Human Resource Summit, believes, "HR has shifted from a focus on transaction - getting policies implemented - to transformation - helping a company succeed. Today HR departments have to do both in order to administer the day-to-day operations of caring for people and to create a capacity to execute business strategy."

The fundamental problem that the industry faces, however, is proving that it adds value to a corporation. It will always remain difficult to quantatively assess the worth of investing in efforts to earn employee loyalty and maximize their potential through training and personal development programs.

But the long-term benefits are clear. And with national initiatives like Emiratisation and Saudisation gaining momentum, programs to broaden and strengthen the talent of the locally- sourced employees are crucial; as are efforts to retain these members of staff in a region where a large portion of the working population is expatriate and transient. Beyond the bottom line figures, the skillful management of human resources is about more than maintaining an operation with the lowest labour cost structure and minimal employee services. People remain the strongest and most competitive assets of a business and the strategic management of an organisation's employee talent in support of the business's missions and objectives will help that organisation strengthen its professional capabilities.

It may take time to understand what makes employees more productive, more satisfied and more likely to want to stay and grow with a company. But these people will form the highly skilled, motivated and stable workforce that will offer a competitive edge on other businesses in the future. Supporting the HR professionals that seek to achieve this understanding should be an integral part of any business's development.

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