Businesses of today face huge challenges, but as HR leaders — we’ve got this! Stepping up to this challenge depends on many things but above all, it depends on the capability of the function and the people in it at every level to deliver individually and collectively. So don’t just think about the top-level strategy, plan for those coming through the ranks and up the ladder and where to get them where they need to be. Question: if they’re not chasing your job, are you doing it right?
What makes a good HR function? Here are some principles:
It’s not about HR leaders, it’s about the organization
(I use the term organization rather than business as everything I say is as relevant to a charitable or public sector organization as it is to a quoted, family, or private equity business).
HR isn’t about doing HR ‘stuff’ but is about making a difference to sustainable organizational performance and the capability that underpins it.
The word sustainable is key, as HR needs to balance the short-termism of finance against the long-term survival of the business.
This is about going beyond being commercial to build credibility, to take a balanced view of business performance grounded in commercial value creation, the triple bottom line, and ethics.
It means getting over any inferiority complex when faced with so-called ‘line’ or ‘commercial’ leaders to demonstrate that building a sustainable business requires more than short-term knee-jerk reactions.
HR leaders need to think of themselves as business people
Our loyalty is to the organization first and the HR profession second.
If I ask an HR leader who they work for and they say HR then I am already suspicious.
If they say employees or managers or company leaders, I’m equally suspicious.
They work for the key owners and stakeholders whether that is shareholders, donors/recipients of charity, governments/taxpayers/patients, etc.
Indeed, management or leadership may be the problem so HR needs to have the self-confidence to challenge as part of the business not partners of the business.
We should be proud of HR
All of HR not just their specialism. They should have a deep understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of HR but they should apply this not as an end in itself but as a means to the end of enhancing long-term performance.
Getting the basics of HR right
CEOs don’t care about it but they do expect it to be done, simply and non-bureaucratically.
If it isn’t done then they’ll care. In this, I would include recruitment and induction, contracts, core learning and development, IR, ER, compliance, risk management, etc.
The core of good HR leadership
But these basics are the table stakes.
They aren’t what good HR leadership is really all about.
They don’t win the gold medal. This is about a holistic, systemic view of an organization that encompasses culture, structure, systems, etc, and is perhaps best defined as OD rather than simply HR.
It’s way more than right people, right place, right time. HR is not simply the people function. It’s about creating the right organization in which people can thrive and perform to the very best of their abilities.
HR needs to use data analytics and insights into what is driving organizational performance today
HR needs to prioritize
HR has a long history of over-promising and under-delivering or of doing things that are the latest fads but which have no impact on the bottom line.
HR needs to use data analytics and insights into what is driving organizational performance today, but also in whatever the strategic timeframe of the organization is, not to justify what it is doing, but to define and prioritize where it puts its efforts.
It needs great delivery skills as well as great design skills. In fact, it needs to know when good enough is good enough and get on with it.
HR should be deeply suspicious
HR should be suspicious of the sacred cows of HR vis talent management, employee engagement, performance management, leadership development, etc.
In each case we need to ensure they are not solutions looking for problems but are levers we can pull that will enhance the performance and capability of the organization.
I am not saying they are wrong what I am saying is we should be using them as levers where they can have the biggest impact on the organization and doing them in a pragmatic way that is grounded in the context of the organization not in applying so-called best practice.
We should never forget that best practice irrelevant of context is irrelevant.