The High-Efficiency HR Department

Strategies for Increasing HR Staff Productivity and Capacity for Strategic, Cross-Campus Support

Topics: Human Resources, Administration and Finance, Strategic Planning, Leadership and Professional Development

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Executive Summary

HR Central to Achieving Institutions’ Strategic People Goals

Higher education is a people-intensive enterprise, so HR has a clear role to play in achieving institutional goals. As the primary "people function," HR is best positioned to drive high-level workforce effectiveness through sourcing, developing, engaging, and retaining talent. In this capacity, high-performing HR departments can significantly benefit the broader institution. Luckily, both HR leaders and business executives want HR to be more strategic and provide higher-level support to the academy and other administrative units. This, along with the widespread financial challenges facing the industry, continue to drive the evolution of HR’s organizational role.

Little Departmental Capacity to Focus on Higher-Order Priorities

Despite this desired shift, HR staff often lack the capacity to focus on more strategic priorities because they are consumed by transactional tasks foundational to HR department operations. As shown below, staff at all levels dedicate significant amounts of time and attention to HR processing and administrative responsibilities. This work precludes senior-level and high-skilled staff from assuming a greater focus on higher-level strategic activities.

Driving Efficiency the First Step for Elevating HR’s Strategic Role

Perhaps counterintuitively, leaders must first perfect core HR operations before pursuing a more strategic focus. There are three primary reasons for this sequence:

  • First, HR departments are typically resource-constrained, making it difficult to reallocate staff time away from pressing but inefficient operational duties.
  • Second, many HR professionals hold the view that automation is a cure-all for workflow inefficiencies. However, technology often serves only to automate already inefficient processes, leaving HR departments without the efficiency gains they had hoped for.
  • Lastly, campus-wide perceptions of HR as a provider of core services are not always positive, leading many to question the department’s credibility and ability to deliver on more complex initiatives.

Ultimately, HR departments must reduce the time and effort spent on transactional HR tasks by streamlining existing processes and staff workflows, and effectively leveraging efficiency gains.

Resources for Creating and Capturing HR Staff Capacity

To increase HR productivity and capacity for strategic, cross-campus support, this report provides 12 best practices for optimizing department operations and refocusing staff on higher-level work.

Meeting HR's Strategic Mandate