In a recent Harvard Business Review article Craig Mundy asked why after so many years of trying to be a true strategic business partner the Human Resources function has still not achieved that status. (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/07/why_hr_still_isnt_a_strategic_partner.html ) He argues that the main reason is that HR, in general is a source of friction rather than “lubrication” (my words) in making business happen.
I think he’s right.
The most common association most people have with HR is that it’s a place of rules, policies and reasons why “you can’t” . Of course HR is often laden with compliance responsibilities, which makes it an enforcement department. Also many line managers are such cowboys in dealing with people issues that it’s often up to HR to bring things back into line. That reality is not a sufficient justification for just how boring, staid and “rules driven” HR has become, almost making it the department of “anti-business”.
I have reflected in a completely unscientific way on this dilemma & wondered from my own practice how we can make HR a more business-like, fun and friction-free function?
My 7 key imperatives for HR execution are addressed to the 7 usual functional areas HR usually comprises & offers in each case a friction free role as opposed to being mr. or mrs. “you can’t”. It’s my hunch that taking the more fun route may well be better for business & help to make HR a more respected, more admired department in a business.
I will start at the top & ask the HR director to, instead of standing in the way of the flow of business, to actually make sure her organisation is famous for something. Are you the most dangerous, most interesting, most laid back or most egalitarian place to work? What are you famous for? Stop worrying about “best practice”. As Karl-Erik Sveiby, my old Swedish mentor used to say: “Catch up people are unhappy people”.
Next stop in our tour of the department of “human remains” is the talent function. Mostly these folks are not busy with “talent” in the Los Angeles sense of the word, but in a nice rebranding of the admin function that used to be called “recruitment”. Here I would simply ask – “what is the unique experience you offer as an employer?” Yes I know it’s close to what I told your boss, but you are supposed to be “all marketing” as Dave Ulrich suggested all those years ago. Your job is a value proposition, not an admin process.
Ok now we are off the training department, or the department of “bums in seats”. My injunction to you is more left field. It’s to suggest that people who come to be “trained” should have fun. The simple reality is that you can nominate, arrange, cajole, keep rigorous attendance registers, but in the end if it’s not fun, interactive & compelling they will just be on their Blackberry’s all day. This choice means paying a little more for a simulation or an experience than a stand-up bore, but believe me it’s worth it.
Office number 4 on the right is the holder of the purse strings, the deeply important expert in remuneration. My question to this master of excel and tax tables is simply: “how hard is it to replace the package somewhere else?” I know SARS makes it hard to not just go “full cash package”, but in the end we retain smart people, people with options by offering a combination or monetary and non-monetary rewards that means that any competitor wanting to recruit them may find exceedingly annoying to replicate. And yes, you can bring your dog to work.
Right next to the lair of the paymaster is the supreme evaluator of outputs – Mr. or Mrs. Performance management, the mythical creature who can translate lofty strategy into KPI’s and KPI’s into money. We all know that the most important determinant of excellence in human performance is being able to answer the question “how am I doing?” Beyond all the cascading strategy maps, KPI’s and and scorecards, your role is simply to get people to understand their contribution to the big picture and how they help to make money. If you can own, drive and push the concept of leverage, you are making it easy for business. If the scorecards you create have categories of 3.5% contribution, you’re just being silly!
Apparatchik number 6 – almost done – is the domain of the organisational development guru. A room full of multi-level org charts and business processes mapped out. My challenge to you is to stop thinking of roles and structures and create assignments and challenges. The new world of work is not about your box, but about the way you can team, collaborate, flow and create value. Connections and capabilities, short term challenges and flexible teams are what excites talent & delivers value, get with the programme, your role is to prepare people for instability, not to box them into structures.
Our last visit is to the true admin area where leave is calculated, payrolls are administered and many many forms are generated. We have tried for years to get you out of the business, to replace you with self-service systems and portals and yet you are still there! Why? Well because of all the complexity and friction created by your so-called specialist colleagues. My advice? Sit tight, be proud and hold your place, draw your salary and wear bright clothing! Sure you don’t actually add much value, but you have an important function: To remind us how needlessly complex HR processes are!