The latest Management Agenda report by leadership institute, Roffey Park, paints a picture of an HR profession stuck in a vicious circle, wanting to be more strategic but having to prioritise operational issues.

The annual report surveyed nearly 2,000 managers of which over half were HR professionals. HR managers reported wanting to become more strategic and influential (64 per cent cite ‘becoming more strategic` as a main challenge; 69 % cited influencing senior managers as a main challenge). This is at a time when HR managers tell us that strategic change is their main challenge (managing change was the most commonly reported challenge with 77% of HR professionals rating it as a main challenge), that many feel overwhelmed by the scale of change and don’t feel they have the capacity to manage it, and more than one-third rate efforts at culture change as unsuccessful (37 % rated efforts at culture change as unsuccessful).

What accounts for this lack of strategic success? HR managers see lack of resources and the short-term nature of the business as key impediments to being more effective (45% of HR professionals think HR is ‘too thinly spread’ and 44% believe that the short-term nature of the business is a key barrier to their effectiveness). Top of the list however is the need for HR to react to operational pressures (59% of HR professionals think HR is too reactive). Whilst the wider business feels that HR is very effective at helping solve operational issues (81% of non-HR managers regarded the help they received from HR colleagues as helpful), only just over one-quarter (28%) see HR as adding value to th e business.

What can HR do to become more strategic? Whilst HR may need to react effectively to operational pressures to both support the business but also to help build credibility and influence, two-fifths of HR managers think HR spends too much time on unimportant things (38 % of HR managers think this). One-fifth think that HR professionals lack credibility and that it does not have influence at Board level. Clearly, then, there are a significant minority who think that HR can better prioritise its limited resources and work on having greater credibility and influence with the business.

Andy Smith, Director of Research, Roffey Park: “Our research suggests that, on the whole, HR is being asked by managers in the business for assistance with predominantly operational issues, and is helping the business to manage these issues very effectively. It does appear, however, that this effectiveness comes at a cost. HR professionals are stuck between a rock and a hard place but must keep pushing the case for more strategic people management at the highest levels within their organisations, or they will fail to stop their talent leaving them.

For HR to manage change effectively and for it to have the strategic impact it wants, it needs to make sure it retains its key talent. With signs of economic recovery, there are signs that HR managers are feeling safe enough to start looking around at other opportunities. More than half (51%) report considering a move in the near future. The top three reasons for thinking of moving giving by HR managers are poor management (48%), no promotion prospects (47%) and lack of appreciation (41%).

Andy Smith, adds: “Our research seems to forecast a concerning exodus talent,. It is these very same leaders who are needed as a constant in order to deliver the change agenda that is foremost in everyone’s priorities. With all the short term pressures caused by economic conditions, HR find themselves in a vicious circle with their attention focused on the operational because they can’t find the space to focus properly on strategic issues. Providing opportunities for development and improving the quality of leadership appear as two key actions that could forestall the potential loss of talent.”