When asked what function is the most important in building a company and instilling enduring culture and values, Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz is quoted as saying, “The discipline I believe so strongly in is HR.”
As you read the cover story of this month’s HR Magazine showing the strategic value that benefits specialists contribute to organizations, you’ll see exactly what Schultz is getting at.
A benefits package, if aligned with the organization’s strategic goals and values, can have more impact on the success of the business than nearly anything else. It can be the deciding factor between recruiting great candidates or losing them to the competition. And it can mean keeping the skilled employees who make your company successful.
But the work of skilled benefits specialists—true “business partners”—is even more critical today, whether to navigate the new world of health care or to compete globally.
Take, for example, the struggle to recruit from a limited pool of talented workers. Often, benefits are the winning edge. A recent Society for Human Resource Management survey found that 31 percent of employers report having leveraged benefits, such as health care, workplace flexibility and retirement plans, to recruit and retain highly skilled employees.
Faced with the global challenge of skills shortages, companies are holding on to their experienced Baby Boomers by offering phased retirement options. They are using flexible work benefits to attract the next generation of skilled workers by giving them the ability to choose when, where and how they do their best work. And most important, business leaders are using benefits to foster innovation.
I often say that you can’t manufacture innovation. It must emanate from an organization’s culture. For instance, Fortune’s Most Admired Companies, including Google, Apple and BMW, are known for HR practices that create a culture of flexibility and innovation. Doing so drives employee engagement, increases retention and boosts overall job satisfaction. And it has yielded products like Gmail, Twitter and Flickr.
We have seen during the last 20 years a dramatic evolution in every aspect of the HR profession. In a comparatively brief time, the profession has advanced from tactical to strategic, from compliance-focused to business-focused, and from an administrative image to one of trusted and valued business partner.
In many ways, benefits—although largely underappreciated for years—are at the heart of the tools utilized by HR to drive this change and to help their organizations succeed. The benefits specialists have been the strategic masters formulating the comprehensive packages that spell success.
Whether it’s providing employees with quality health care while allowing employers to remain sustainable or creating the types of flexible workplaces that represent the next business imperative, benefits specialists and all HR professionals are truly at the forefront, as they deserve to be—and it’s exactly why CEOs such as Schultz believe so strongly in the discipline of HR.