Expert Advice of the Month: It’s time for the role of the HR department to change

This month we talk with Walter Pranke, vice president, human resources at Lee Valley Tools, a chain of tool and gift stores based in Ottawa.

The job of the HR department certainly became front and centre during the pandemic. But as its importance has grown, so has the definition of the role an HR department must play to be an effective part of any growth-oriented company.

HR was once viewed as the “personnel department” through which managers could generate employee reviews and keep track of a staffer’s performance, both good and bad. But that model is outdated. Today, the importance of employee wellness has become crucial to the workings of a company.

“The HR department has become much more than a personnel department,” says Walter Pranke, VP of human resources at Lee Valley Tools. “An HR leader has to be very business savvy, with more than simply an HR mindset.”

Pranke says that HR should be an integral part of a management team’s planning. But it has to earn that spot by being focused on the overall success of a company. “You need to be able to provide solid ideas that will help grow the business.” He urges fellow HR leaders to “learn the business” so their input will add value in concrete ways and contribute to the overall performance of a company.

Pranke says it’s important to stay on top of technology that can help streamline and strengthen the HR role. He’s in the process of implementing a new platform that will help connect Lee Valley’s employees at 18 stores across Canada—and employees working remotely—with virtual, face-to-face access.

The process of pitching this technology, Pranke says, required him to have a good sense of the wider business advantages the platform could bring. “Now we will have a much more centralized and cohesive model for training.”

HR has moved well beyond its “personnel department” mindset. “Management needs to think of including HR in more conversations about the growth and future of the business,” Pranke concludes.