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HR’s Most Important Function

HR  “Which function of HR is the most important?”  That’s a question I was recently asked.  It left me pondering all of the options and possible answers.  For you see, it’s most likely the one that has your immediate attention.  The world of human resources is very diverse—probably more so than any other occupation.  There are many opinions about exactly how many functions are included in the profession.  The SHRM Learning System covers 23 different aspects of the profession.  Some experts say there are 12 functions; still others say there are seven or five or maybe even four.  Let’s look at nine to see if we can determine which is most important.

Strategic Management

Human resources professionals must be continuously aware of current and future opportunities and threats to the organizational goals.  Development of strategic plans to include the numbers of workers, the required skills and when needed to link the workforce to the achievement of the organization’s mission is most definitely an important function of HR.  Planning for qualified workers is equally important as scheduling sufficient supplies and materials.  Without the workers, the mission will fail.  It’s definitely an important function.

Compensation and Benefits

Appropriately evaluating and setting compensation structures and offering impressive benefits at great rates enables an organization to attract and retain quality talent.  Quality talent is necessary to remain competitive and deliver exceptional services.  Delivery of exceptional services safeguards organizational sustainability.  This sounds like an important function, to me.

Recruitment and Selection 

Filling open positions promptly is fundamental in developing the organization’s workforce.  Effectively advertising positions, sourcing candidates, screening them and presenting only the best options fortifies the organization’s position allowing for the development of new products and services as well as the continuation of existing offerings.  So, this too is a critical function.

Safety and Risk Management

HR creates and delivers workplace safety training programs, maintains federally-required logs for workplace injury, manages workers’ compensation claims and return-to-work programs, detects and eliminates risks.  Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe and hazard free working environment for their employees.  Organizations face serious consequences including fines, reputation damage and even shut down, for any omissions or oversight in the area of workplace safety.  It’s a vital function.

Employee and Labor Relations

The employee and labor relations functions are concerned with strengthening the employer-employee relationship.  This is accomplished by measuring job satisfaction, employee engagement and resolving workplace conflict. It could also include developing organizational responses to union organizing campaigns and negotiating collective bargaining agreements.  If employees aren’t valued, they aren’t engaged.  Discontented employees results in high turnover.  The consequences of high turnover are reduced production and high tangible costs to an organization.  Again, this is a very crucial function.


There are many federal laws that govern the workplace, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the National Labor Relations Act.  There are state laws, and in some cases even county or city regulations that require observance.  Failure to comply with these many labor and employment laws can result in workplace complaints based on discriminatory employment practices.  These complaints are time consuming, affect productivity and can lead to significant penalties, legal fees and costly financial settlements.  Without this substantial and detailed function, organizations are crippled.

Training and Development

Without the necessary tools for success, employees will struggle.  New employees must effectively transition to a new organizational culture, newly hired or promoted supervisors and managers must receive leadership training as well as guidance on topics like employee relations within their unit, performance management, paid leave policies and approval, etc. and those seeking promotion may need additional professional development.  Employees are most effective when they are properly prepared for their assigned responsibilities.  Without appropriate training, organizational productivity suffers.  It sounds like Training is a key function.

Policy Formulation

The employee handbook is part of the organizational culture.  The tone, content and guidance provided by the policies contained within the handbook set the overall direction of the organization.  It’s the employee reference guide for all things related to their employment.  Continually identifying concerns and opportunities for improvement to the employee handbook is crucial.  HR has the responsibility for the development, administration, implementation and application of these policies.  A lapse of any of the above actions can lead to disorder and confusion among the workforce and legal claims of discrimination.  Those significant consequences make this another important function.

Performance Management

Continuous improvement is the hallmark of any great organization.  So, effectively managing the performances of the employees is essential.  Developing and implementing a performance review process and when necessary, managing and monitoring the performance improvement plans is how organizations are able to monitor individual contributions.  The sum of those individual contributions determines the success of the organization.  Although challenging, in order for the overall performance management program to be credible with all stakeholders, it is essential that it be administered impartially and systematically.  Without performance measures, organizations can’t manage and achieve growth.  So, it must be a significant function.

And there you have it.  All functions are important and critical to organizational success.  HR’s role is to continuously provide proactive and responsive support in the viability and ongoing development of the organization.  All of the above responsibilities (and many more) operate commendably in a high performing human resources department.

joycex125Joyce has over 30 years of progressive human resources experience in the private sector environment.  She holds a Business Administration degree from Emmanuel College, Franklin Springs, GA; was awarded Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) designation by the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds an Advanced Certificate in Internal Investigations.

She has served on the board of the HR Florida State Council since 2007 and currently serves as Immediate Past President.  She has been a member of the Florida State University Center for Human Resource Management Board since 2008 and was a Board Member of the Big Bend Society for Human Resource Management from 2006 through 2009, serving as President in 2008.  She served on the Big Bend Business Leadership Network Board from 2005 until 2007 and currently serves on the Springtime Tallahassee Foundation Board.  She is a past-president of Extra Point Club, a Florida State University Seminole Booster organization.

Joyce has been named a Tallahassee Volunteer of the Year Finalist and Leon County Schools Volunteer of the Year.  She was selected as one of the “Twenty-five Women You Should Know in Tallahassee” and was honored with the designation of the Florida Resources Professional of the Year in 2008.  In 2009, the Florida Trend Magazine featured her as a Trendsetter in Human Resources.


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