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Nov
14 2012

Let’s Reassure Ourselves: HR Can Be Strategic & So Can We

Syndicated from: balance-AND-results

One of the few things I recall specifically from long ago sessions by Tony Robbins is his repeated assertion that, “Frustration means you’re about to break through.” When you’ve chewed away at a problem long enough something gives and you start to see the light, but in the moments before you do, it seems as if you never will. That preliminary darkness feels like the point I’m at presently. The highly respected research and networking group, i4cp sent a preview report a short time ago – 43 pages entitled The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor. It’s an excellent description of what’s needed for high functioning HR operations, but leaves me in that frustrated frame of mind. Trying to put my finger on what’s bugging me and find the words to describe what I’d like to hear instead has been a revealing exercise that isn’t over yet. Reflection is key to progress, so I’m not complaining per se, just grumpy about struggling for words. That’s probably why I’ve been whaling away at CEOs who fall short of perfection yet don’t see the need to improve and at perfectly good reports that don’t capture what I’m working to spell out as well. My first reaction to the paper was “we know all this; it’s been evolving for 15 years or more.” True, but that doesn’t mean most HR departments or, more importantly, their senior executive teams know this stuff and they should, so the report is fine in that respect. This is another typical ‘knowing-doing gap’ – HR has many suggestions that require company support that aren’t getting implemented. We also know HR needs to split into admin and strategic. Both need to be done well. There are entire books on what the keys are in each of the pieces. This report is a clear, compelling summary that most HR people would do well to review and encourage others to read. What makes it so frustrating then? It doesn’t go quite far enough. HR continues to be set up and see itself as a support function. Providing services such as HR business managers to guide line managers, to ensure admin stuff gets done, ideally to use more analytics to point out how important recruiting top notch players in key areas can be. The emphasis is on embedding HR and HR people in the business, who understand business imperatives and bolster those in new ways as well as old. The focus is on performance where it should be, but the report sums it up in the goal of becoming Performance Advisors. I guess I have trouble with the objective of being Advisors. Of course we can improve things by striving to be ‘valued’ advisors, but first one should ask have we really been non-valued advisors up to now? And second can’t we be more than bystanders who offer advice (which so few people seem interested in taking)? I imagine we can go right on being ‘ignored’ advisors whether our advice is valuable or not. What would ‘better’ look like? HR needs to be a valued team member, not just an advisor. Our role isn’t only to think up and try to numerically justify programs we think others should agree to. Somehow even when HR does this well, they get ignored because there’s such a bias that we’re not ‘business people.’ That judgment doesn’t get made on numbers, which we can put on the table today via analytics quite well. It is made on the certainty most line managers cling to that as soon as ‘people’ are mentioned, the issue is not a business issue and never will be. That’s backed up by certainty that if HR is citing numbers the numbers are probably wrong because ‘everyone’ knows HR doesn’t do numbers well. Would you send your CFO to meet with investors? Would you send your CHRO? In most organizations I’m familiar with the latter question would be regarded as absurd. The first one maybe should be, too, but generally wouldn’t be seen that way even though a typical CFO asked about people programs would probably get only as far as ‘we have some great executives who can really get results’ – and that would be acceptable to many investor groups. This is changing as both CFOs and CHROs become more well-rounded team members, but the progress is slow. So the report was good, but progress is slow not just because HR needs to evolve, but because broader organizational thinking needs to evolve as well. It’s fine to put some of the blame on HR, but not to ignore the fact that it is a more widespread challenge than just that. One thing that’s missing is that CHROs need to be making the point forcefully that these gaps can no longer be accepted as sane or logical… and CEOs need to be listening and stepping up to ensure the CHROs are heard. Needless to say, I’m mulling over more thoughts about this and expect to have further comments on this theme in future posts. Bookmark and share this post More »

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