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HRExam Poll #1: The Most Important Thing
Our Editorial Advisory Board is an amazing collection of bright and seasoned minds from around the industry. I occasionally tease member Kris Dunn that it is a Fistful of Wisdom and Experience. Members are chosen for their unique point of view and depth of expertise.
Each member promises a concise article and a response to a topical question every 60 days.
This week, we’re introducing the first of the bimonthly topical questions, the HRExam Poll. EAB members are given the question and a two week deadline. We select the cream of the crop to give you studied expertise on a specific topic.
This week’s question was “What is the one thing an HR Department can do to improve the value it deliver to the organization?”
I don’t know about you, but the constant berating of HR is starting to wear thin. The problem, echoed and amplified in the blogosphere, is complicated by the fact that we are navigating a downturn, HR Departments are seriously short staffed, new technology often requires some silly looking experiments and we’re witnessing a genrational shift in leadership style. Some of the smartest things happening in our world looky kooky and incompetent. Some of the dumbest look conservative and right minded.
That’s the old Chinese curse, “May you live in socially significant times.”
Our panel holds a remarkably consistent view about where HR can, should and does create value. Seeing the forest for the trees and helping others to do so is where we make our mark. A reactive response to intense deadlines and moment to moment pressures means we don’t have our eye on the ball.
Great, transformative HR is about helping the organization reach its full potential as it navigates the realities of the business. Ensuring that the right resources are avialable and deployed effectively as the landscape shifts is the whole ballgame.
Take a gander at these various perspectives. Each writer is a subject area expert with 20 or more years of experience. They travel different paths to conclusions that are the same. I found the variety refreshing and the conclusions motivating.
What is the first thing an HR department should do to improve its value to the organization?
A seemingly simple question with what should be simple, straightforward answers. Maybe. It turns out that there are a lot of ideas out there for what HR should do, or could do, to be better – from the actionable, to the adoption of a different kind of mentality.
From where I sit, it’s all about the practitioner and life in the trenches. The idea of bettering HR is always done with an eye on what actually works in the “real world” and on a practical level… because in reality, great HR isn’t always easy within an organization where there are politics, and bureaucracy, and competing interests and brand concerns and ever shrinking budgets. And when you get a group of experts in the talent management space to weigh in on what HR could do to better itself, lots of ideas are thrown around. My knee jerk reaction when reading the contributions of our Editorial Advisory Board was that the ideas they have are nice and all but what’s a good idea worth if your everyday practitioner can’t execute and implement?
So back to what’s the single most important, and first thing, an HR department should do to improve its value to the organization?
And what does this practitioner think? Well, it turns out, you have to decide for yourself, and it will largely depend on where you’re starting from. With HR staff in place who have the right mentality, it might be turning to actionable strategies – the practical stuff. With the wrong HR staff in place, well, the reality is that you might have to start at ground zero and begin with cultivating the right mindset.
Know where you are to know where you’re going.
- Jessica Lee, Editor of the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board
Actionable Strategies –
Rusty Rueff, CEO and startup entrepreneur | Ensure that there is real, actionable, measurable and internally marketable linkages to what value HR has created with the objectives of the corporation and the other functions within the organization. HR has many areas where value is created, but too often the linkages are missed or ignored and without even realizing it, the HR team looks as though they are working in a silo or worse yet, misaligned with the priorities of the rest of the organization. If the CEO and other Functional Leaders can’t clearly see the linkage and communicate confidently in their own functional language what HR is doing and how it fits and helps them, then HR runs the risk of having the value they have created not only marginalized but ignored and potentially ridiculed.
Kris Dunn, HR executive, leading blogger | The world of work is evolving. Business opportunities will emerge, laws will change and strategies will be adjusted accordingly. At the heart of it all is a changing belief system held by the US and global worker, one that increasingly views itself as a free agent moving between gigs, be they contract, full-time, 3 months or 3 years in duration. That means your HR Function has to become less administrative and more sales oriented, with a focus on being able to deliver the talent the org needs, when it needs it. Farmer vs. Hunter. So the first thing an HR Department should do to increase the value it creates for an organization is to build a world class recruiting/talent acquisition function, then follow it up with a talent management strategy that managers will actually appreciate and use.
Todd Dewett, professor of leadership studies | Perform an 80/20 analysis on all HR policies and issues which consumed HR staff time in the past quarter, and how much time was spent on each. Have every member of the department classify each item on the list as either 80 or 20. An item labeled 80 is one deemed to be possibly important but not strategically important or vital for moving the company forward. An item labeled as a 20 is a truly important issue central to developing an amazing organization in the future. Your goal is to see how much agreement there is about which items are 80s and which are 20s, and, to the extent possible, compare the time spent on the 80s versus the 20s. The vast majority of time should be spent creating and enacting policies aimed at building an amazing talent pool and operating structure, not posturing defensively against potential future lawsuits or debating mundane operational rules.
Heather Bussing, employment lawyer and assumption kicker | HR needs to eliminate the employment relationship wherever possible. The employer-employee relationship is the most regulated, expensive, inefficient, paternal and dysfunctional relationship besides, well, families. But a company is not a family. It is a business. It is designed to do work and make money. The best way to do that is to give people the tools and authority to do the work and the direction to achieve the financial goals of the company. The most agile, efficient, cost effective relationship between a company and its workers is independent contractor. Granted. This is not legally possible in all cases where some positions require supervision and control. But many, even most, do not. A workforce of independent contractors creates a marketplace within the company – and marketplaces produce efficiency. Take a different take on talent supply chain management, focus on the actual work of the company and you’ll probably gain a new title.
A Consultative Approach –
Hank Stringer, startup entrepreneur and executive recruiter | Become consultative verses serving as an administrative ‘staffing’ partner. HR carries the responsibility to staff and retain great talent. Too often, for reasons including too much work and too little resources, this activity becomes a process of managing paper verses adding strategic value to a very important initiative. Taking the time to meet with hiring authorities, listening to and understanding their needs and how best to work with them to accomplish their goals is too often over looked. Don’t make this mistake. Take the time to consult and increase staffing value by which you can and will understand the strengths and weaknesses as well as the needs to ensure quality talent is in place at the right time to execute against your company’s strategic plans.
Neil McCormick, Australian workforce planning guru | Stop thinking like a cost centre! HR Departments need to position themselves as a value-added consultancy servicing a diverse range of clients. If HR were to act as and follow the logic of a consultancy they will automatically start to gain a detailed understanding of what the organisation perceives it needs. From this understanding and their human resource expertise, they can assist in fine tune the requirements and in turn, the results. They will also then need to review what they do. Any good consultancy concentrates on its area of expertise and looks to off-load activities that are not economic, efficient nor effective. Finally, in acting as a consultancy, the HR Department needs to abandon HR centric language and reporting and communicate only in terms of organisational objectives; the triggers that are critical to leadership and delivery of objectives.
A Focus on the Future –
Jay Cross, learning guru | Executives only care about HR as it relates to the future. Their interest is in moving the corporation forward. The first thing an HR Department should do is to find out where the senior leaders of the business think they are going, for that’s where corporate value will be created. They should form close partnerships with their stakeholders and concentrate on solving their problems. This is a wildly different orientation than worrying about next week and putting out fires. Invest most of your efforts in creating the future your leaders are shooting for.
Paul Hebert, CEO of incentive strategy & influence design firm | The real value is in preparing for, anticipating and responding to future Human Resource requirements. The value HR creates for the company is understanding what each department (or future department) will need in their people (skill sets, knowledge, training, etc.) and building the pipeline for future talent needs so the right talent is available when the business changes. HR is typically caught flat-footed when a company changes or adjusts its overall strategy because either the leadership doesn’t think strategy and HR are connected or HR isn’t looking and listening for the clues that indicate the future needs of the company.
Claudia Faust, CEO candidate experience company | An HR Department must first understand the overreaching short and long term goal(s) of the business, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of its current talent base and market conditions. I consider “understand” an active rather than passive verb, demonstrated by the development and management of strong relationships with every function of the business. I also consider that HR has an obligation to drive consensus and collective clarity about goals where gaps or discrepancies exist. With a firm foundation in these areas, HR can then strategically do its primary job: that of driving talent attraction, acquisition, and lifecycle management to fuel the business in meeting its goals.
The Great Recession’s Recovery as a Human Capital Problem | Colin Kingsbury Editorial Advisory Board Member
Colin W. Kingsbury is the president and co-founder of HRM Direct, a leading SaaS provider of applicant tracking and onboarding systems to mid-sized organizations. Colin brings a lifetime of experience from both in and outside of the software industry, having previously held positions in product management, software engineering, sales, and as a newspaper journalist with expertise in knowledge automation, and has consulted on technology and business practices for Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Electric, and the US intelligence community. Full Bio
If, as Ambrose Bierce wrote, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography,” then recessions may do much the same for the study of economics. The story of why the “Great Recession” has been unusually long and deep has so far centered almost entirely on banks, mortgages, exotic three-letter acronyms, and the Federal Reserve. It’s a story that puts the financial sector at the center of everything–which seems to have worked out well, at least for banking executives.
But there’s an alternate view being advanced by one economist, Professor Arnold King, that defines the problem largely in terms of human capital, and in the process illuminates the challenges that will only grow more acute with time.
The Great Recession’s Recovery as a Human Capital Problem
Kling is a former staff economist and consultant at the Federal Reserve and Freddie Mac, and an early successful dot-com entrepreneur. He calls his story of the recession “Recalculation” and several of its key principles may sound familiar to HR and recruiting leaders:
1. Economic activity–and the jobs it creates–is becoming much more specialized. The neighborhood mechanic has been replaced with specialized vendors including collision-repair shops, where skill sets (e.g. welding and painting) have become more differentiated over time.
2. Demand for skills is constantly changing with both the introduction of new technology (PC helpdesk tech vs. typewriter repairman), and the development of new patterns of organizational specialization (HR manager vs. EEO officer).
3. One of the central “calculation problems” that the economy faces, as a system, is to match workers with jobs where their skills can create value for employers. As skills become more specialized, that matching problem becomes harder.
Another important element of the Recalculation story comes from George Mason University economist Garett Jones, who Tweeted,
Bringing Recalculation Even Closer to Home for the HR Practitioner
An easy way to understand Recalculation and the human capital issues of the Great Recession is to think of an HR manager responsible for orientation of new employees. When he replaces trainers in classrooms with an online training system, he’s creating what economists call “organizational capital,” which is capable of generating value for the company on its own.
This concept is critical because in a recession, companies can scale back investment in creating new organizational capital without a direct reduction in output. Likewise, while a recovery in demand will require a company to re-hire workers responsible for production, capital investment–whether in office space or workers creating organizational capital–is often delayed until it’s clear that demand will be strong for more than a quarter or two into the future.
Kling believes that this recession has been unusually jarring because it is driven by more than a simple buildup of excess inventories. In the classic view, recessions occur when demand drops across the economy, and excess inventories accumulate as companies make more product than consumers want to buy. However, this view assumes that the primary problem is weak demand: fix that and we’ll go back to buying new cars and houses just like we were in 2006, and all the carpenters and auto workers will get their old jobs back.
But, if those patterns of consumption don’t return, then a “Recalculation” needs to occur: companies and entrepreneurs need to find new areas of business to replace the old, and the workforce as a whole shifts from skills favored by the old areas of demand to the new ones just opening up. The challenge, for businesses and employees alike, is that during a recession it is much more obvious what isn’t valuable than what is.
The Road Not Taken
I find Kling’s theory interesting both for illuminating the road not taken and highlighting some of the paramount management challenges businesses will face in the future. Every recruiter knows that job reqs are becoming more specialized, and most companies have dozens if not hundreds of jobs that only a tiny handful of people really know inside and out. But if, as Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” then similarly, those employees will find the useful life of those invaluable skills to be much shorter than their career.
Likewise, companies could stand to become much better at understanding the nature of their organizational capital. As talent-management professionals, we understand that layoffs deprive the company of future potential, and create opportunities for competitors to out-innovate us as the economy recovers, but the systems and vocabulary used to articulate this often remain inadequate to the task. This is no small challenge, but broad economic trends suggest that companies which succeed at this may reap huge competitive advantages as talent and organizational capital become more specialized.
Last, it may seem obvious to human resource managers that any economy-wide understanding of unemployment and recovery needs to take aspects of workforce planning and organizational development into consideration. In fact, these are largely alien to the discussions driving policy over the past two years. Instead, we have been treated to a story almost exclusively of the banking system. It is not the first time HR has been missing a seat at the table, but this time, we are in distinguished company.
In The Know v 1.25: Brands, Jargon and Targeting
Five links to accelerate the value your HR delivers.
- Engage is the Most Overused Word in Business Today
“What we really mean by ‘engage’ is simply communicating with people in real terms: Meaningful Conversation.“
- Understanding Your Visual and Voice Brands
Members of the HR and Employment Branding teams need to be up to date on brand consistency. The new frontier is your voice brand. As conversation becomes the heart of consumer and candidate experience, having reasoable consistency in voice, across media platforms and channels is critical. Voice is “How your brand is going to sound and respond and converse across multiple channels.”
- How Well Do You Know BT?
Offsite behavioral targeting is all the rage in the more traditional (read not recruitment ads) segment. This article is a great tutorial about the tools and techniques that should be arriving in our space in about 5 minutes.
- They Don’t Want a Relationship, They Just Want an ‘Apply Now’ Button
Fistful of Talent Contributor Steve Boese tackles the question of talent communities. Are people really going to join your company community on thr off chance that they will get a job? The money quote:|
Getting back to the students, one additional and open-ended question I always ask them is this: ‘What is your preferred method to seek out opportunities and apply for positions?’. Every semester and for three years running now, the most common answer is ‘The big job boards like Monster or CareerBuilder’. When pressed for details, ‘Ease of use’, ‘one click to send a resume and apply’, ‘no need to re-enter the same information over and over’, and ‘lots of jobs all in one place and not just for one company’ are the most frequently mentioned. When asked about learning about organizations and engaging with company recruiters on social networks like Facebook or Twitter, almost all of them recoil. No way they say, Facebook is for me and my friends only.
- Rethink HR? Why Bother
In some quarters, operations like HRHappyHour are dismissed as trivial. The critics wince at the constant drumbeat of “HR is broken”. In this piece, Jason Seiden puts some energy into the question of what’s broken with the conversation about what’s broken in HR. In the end, it seems like what’s broken about the conversation about what’s broken in HR is HR. Seiden’s suggestion that the answer is to “focus on the little things every day that improve culture like picking up paper clips off the floor or saying hello to your coworkers.”
Jason Averbook is the founder and CEO of Knowledge Infusion, the most rapidly growing firm on the HR Consulting front lines. We had been playing a game of meeting phone tag for most of the past 6 months. KI’s rapid growth and Averbook’s legendary focus on customer satisfaction are at the heart of the scheduling conflicts. Finally, early on a Friday morning, we made the connection.
The moment I started the conversation, I knew this was going to be something different. There’s a certain sameness to the group of folks who dominate the movement of ideas in the Human Capital Industry. I had the sense that it was simply pasty-white maleness. I had less than high expectations for my conversation with Jason Averbook.
“We did some really right things last year,” he said. “We stopped being exclusively focused on HR Technology and started being focused on HR Strategy (with a minor in HRTech). What we discovered is that HRTech without a clear strategy is just dumb. In a market where people are not buying so much technology, every purchasing decision has to have a real tie to the overall business.
Now, our whole business is about tying HR to the business. We are focused on Talent Management and Business Alignment. As a result, it looks like we will grow three times our plan this year. And, I am having a ton of fun.”
With 35 Full Time Employees and another 30 Contractors, Knowledge Infusion is in the Inc 5000. They are ranked 34 in the Human Resources Category. They offer strategic advice, readiness assessment and gap analysis and the training required to close the gap.
The Knowledge Infusion CEO says, “I was surprised to discover that HR Tech never changes anything in HR. What changes HR is the people in HR.”
Averbook is a plain spoken man with a gift for profound simplification. He has a level of passion for the Human Capital function that defies easy articulation. Somehow, a conversation with Knowledge Infusion’s leader seems to open up possibilities. It’s a kind of contagious charisma in a sort of insurance executive form.
Jason talks about his roots “It all begins with your parents. My dad, who profoundly impacted me and Knowledge Infusion, was an insurance executive. My mom was a teacher and superintendent of schools. I wanted to work at the intersection of their interests, where business and education meet.”
Prior to co-founding Knowledge Infusion, Jason held senior management positions at PeopleSoft and Ceridian where he built strong relationships with industry-leading companies, and strove to provide the best service to HR organizations around the world.
We talked about the trends that are driving change in HR.
- “The first part of the 2000s was all about brand explosion. Brands became megabrands like Starbucks, Nike, Dell, Four Seasons…But, in the fast growth environment, the left infrastructure waiting. As we navigate the great reset, they are retooling, focusing on infrastructure and laying the groundwork for the next wave of growth.”
- “In that same time, everyone realized that they were global; the HR Issues are global. Up to that point in time, we could see transactional evidence for this big idea but the light bulb hadn’t yet gone off. Today, globalization is something more than having plants scattered around the planet. It’s a way of thinking about governance and employment.”
- “Talent is not what we thought it was. The jobs are not coming back. Instead, we have to focus on ‘the talent management spine’; those people who will take the enterprise into the future. The new rules are all about cultivation and attraction. Talent Management is being applied where it matters.”
In every one of these interviews (I’ve done about 430 so far), I close the conversation by asking who the most influential people are in HR. Averbook was the first person to name classes of people. His picks:
- CEOs who put talent first;
- Social Media pioneers who do something besides throw party and trash talk the profession; and
- Industry vendors who understand that this has little to do with HR and everything to do with real business impact.
Knowledge Infusion has the feel of a company that will become a 21st Century institution. Averbook and his crew are demonstrating a kind of agile consulting that moves with the market while continuing to provide new and innovative value. “The real fun is figuring out what the next brand of product will be. Our future depends on knowledge based products that build in innovation.”