Executives taking the MSc in Strategic Human Resources Management at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) know the importance of adapting to change. In particular, they understand the greater need for each division in any organisation to add value in tangible ways and, as far as possible, to back this up with actual numbers showing costs saved or gains made. Such an approach ties in with the ambition of many HR practitioners to be more involved in their companies’ planning and strategy decisions right up to board level. But it also makes it essential to have the tools and know-how to make a case or explain achievements in the “language of business”, using generally accepted measures that translate into financial terms and particularly ROI, or return on investment. This has relevance for everything from calculating the real cost of employee turnover or absenteeism to showing a payback from investments in training and development or staff-incentive schemes. And that, in turn, explains why Human Resources Measurement, one of the core courses, MSc course in Human Resources Measurement, taught by visiting professor Wayne Cascio from the University of Colorado Denver, generates such interest. If people want to be ‘players’ and contribute to important business decisions, they must be willing to invest their time to understand the numbers and how the whole business works Prof. Wayne Cascio Conducted over two weekends in the second year of the two-year, part-time programme, it gives participants practical methods and appropriate software to assess and compare different HR policies. The intention is to make the participants more intelligent users of data when considering strategic decisions or presenting findings and proposals. And the teaching format is very interactive, with time spent in both the classroom and the computer lab. “The first weekend is all about statistics, working with Excel spreadsheets and data to show how to make sense out of numbers,” Cascio says. “The second weekend then focuses on investing in people. Participants use the software we make available and apply what they have learned to figure out the ROI of various HR programmes. They work with tools that can easily be adapted for their day-to-day jobs, which gives them quite an advantage.” Broadly speaking, a stereotype still exists of HR professionals being averse to numbers and a bit removed from the sharp end of the business. And, indeed, some participants do seem to approach the course with a certain amount of anxiety or trepidation. However, as Cascio points out, there is really only one way forward. “If people want to be ‘players’ and contribute to important business decisions, they must be willing to invest their time to understand the numbers and how the whole business works,” he says. “They should have the knowledge and competencies they now need to succeed in the HR profession. This includes such things as critical thinking, business acumen, and ‘environment scanning’, which is the ability to identify emerging trends – political, economic, social, legal, and technical – and what they will mean in terms of managing the company’s business.” During the course, Cascio uses examples from court cases to show how statistics are used to convince a judge and jury. He also tries to include as many practical stories as possible, so that participants see the relevance and significance of what they are being asked to do. One, for example, concerns the relative pay scales for men and women doing similar jobs in the revenue-producing divisions of a New York-based investment bank over a 10-year period – and how they differed. Software used for the course is designed to be very user-friendly. In effect, it provides a roadmap for HR professionals to work out, say, the all-round cost to the company if someone in a key role decides to quit. This would include things like the separation payment, costs associated with hiring a replacement, and the investment required to train the new person up to an equivalent level of performance and productivity. “The software lays all that out in a logical, easy-to-use manner with a clear blueprint of what information to consider and how to put those considerations into practice,” Cascio says. “In general, as companies focus more on their core competencies, and HR becomes less transactional, we can see that the best practitioners will be those who have business experience and are ready to step outside their comfort zones. To make an impact, they have to understand the challenges operating managers face throughout the year.” Altogether, the MSc requires participants to take eight core courses, an elective, and a research-based or a consultancy-type project, offering suggested solutions and recommendations to improve the HR practices of a company in Hong Kong. Prospective applicants interested in finding out more can attend an information session at HKBU on February 11 or start by visiting the website.