“Can we make that change? I don’t know. I have little faith the current system will ever change focus. Not if executive pay packages continue to be tied to short-term goals. Not if stockholders want immediate results. Not if HR still believes it deals with people.” - Paul Hebert

Reader Note: I’m having a bad HR year. Things haven’t gone my way and whenever that happens, I find someone to blame. And, as anyone in the HR space knows, HR is always a great target. So, warning – snark ahead.

If I were to create a new product, my target audience would be HR professionals. I believe it is almost impossible to not make a good retirement stash selling a solution to that market. I look at it this way. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 730,000 companies with more than 20 employees in the US. At 20 employees, HR starts to become a necessity (and a problem). If I could corner about 1% of that market, I’d get 7,300 companies. If I could get $25/employee/year at those companies, averaging 10 employees each I’d be in the $1.8 million range annually. I might be able to squeak by with that.
The reason I’d look to HR as my target is that cohort seems to buy whatever is being sold if there is even the slightest possibility it might work.
Now, I’ve not done any real research. But who really does anymore? It’s just too easy to put up a poll on social media and call it a survey and then pivot to a 99% confidence interval so you can call it research. Regardless, my ongoing scans of the social media steams (i.e.: research) of HR pros tells me they’d be an easy market to penetrate because:

  • HR memories are short. What was a problem 10 years ago and was “solved,” is still a problem today. It seems HR pros forget recent (and ancient) history and believe these are new problems with a need for new solutions. HR has an insatiable appetite for new. My product can be new. It can be new every year if I need it to be.

  • Success isn’t a requirement. So many of the “cures” for HR ills aren’t. Yet they continually are offered up as solutions (after the appropriate waiting period – see above.) The sheer number of solutions in the HR ecosystem from training to talent management from recruiting to relocation tells me there are no real solutions – just a metric-ton of “ideas” of what a good solution “might” be. I can do “good ideas” standing on my head with an Ambien and a good single malt. (See next four points.)

  • If it is from Google, double down – it must be good. It used to be zappos but now it is google. I can figure out how to “google-ize” the marketing for my product.

  • HR will buy whatever Brene Brown or Simon Sinek says they should. I can name my product “Vulnerable HR” or “WhyHR.” That should do the trick. (Note – not a reflection on those two luminaries… I do like their points of view.)

  • If there is technology involved is must be good. Get lots.
  • Paul Hebert, HRExaminer.com 2015

    Paul Hebert | Founding Member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board


  • If it says it has AI or Machine Learning or Big Data – get lots and lots and lots.

  • Since there are only 72 global “HR influencers” my influence marketing campaign should be easy to create. It’s not like I need to look too hard – just take the speaker list from 83.4% of all HR conferences – buy a webinar from a couple of those folks and I’m on my way.

  • Alliteration is key. Employee Experience is hot. Employee Engagement was hot. Someone once tried to coin Employee Marriage a few years back (not naming names – but you know who…) That didn’t stick because – no alliteration. My product would be something like PeoplePlus or EmployeeExcel or something like that. Processing fluency is key to success.

Now, that may seem harsh. But I think it beings to ring true as you read it. But, it’s really not a criticism of HR pros, it’s a criticism of HR’s management: the C-Suite.
C-Suite and HR Will Never Align
The C-Suite is creating an HR practice that can’t be successful.
I always make sure to say I orbit HR, but I don’t play. I’m 100% a spectator. But I’m a rabid fan and follow HR like a Cleveland Indians fan follows their team. I am a Monday morning whatever. I sit on the sidelines and pontificate. (Maybe I am the problem? Probably.) However, vectoring in from the sidelines does provide a perspective those on the field don’t have.
So, here’s what I’ve been seeing the last 10-15 years.
[Reader Note: All of this is an opinion. See above.]

  1. C-Suite time horizons are extremely short. Their pay and stockholder issues are quarterly. And that means they push similar time horizons down the chain of command. But people don’t change that quickly. HR can’t achieve any “people” goals in 90 days. Yet their success is judged in those time frames. Therefore, HR looks for quick fixes and the solution du jour, hoping they can make it work. That desire for fast fixes pushes HR to look at efficiency vs. effectiveness. And that typically means they look to technology.

  3. The need for speed means technology has now taken the lead in HR decision-making. You can’t talk HR anymore without talking tech. Tech used to be the tail being wagged by the HR dog, but now it IS the dog. Because speed is the need, HR seems to be looking at ALL solutions as tech solutions. They’re aren’t. My experience as an employee and a manager is that most of my problems with HR are training and support related. Not tech issues.

  5. Tech solutions are tangible. I can check a box. Most other HR solutions don’t have that level of substance and impact. Training takes time to manifest in behaviors and the outcome of those behaviors takes time to manifest in results. Those aren’t quarterly things. Also, tech solutions transfer the responsibility from HR to the managers using the tech. “Hey – I got them the tools – they just aren’t using them.”

  7. Human beings aren’t easily quantifiable.I regularly say managing people is the hardest job in the world because people are infinitely variable. From hour to hour and day to day, people are different. It’s easy to maintain a machine on the factory floor that does the same thing over and over, exactly the same way, every day of the year. But how do you maintain optimal performance of a human being that can have different requirements every day? That means HR pros (all managers for that matter) have no quantifiable foundation for decision making and planning. That makes it easy to follow Pied Pipers in the industry with good stories and great presentation skills. It’s not that the pundits are wrong. It’s just their point of view is more driven by cult of personality vs. repeatable tactics. HR has had their share of consultants and gurus over the years, those whose stars rose and fell as tastes change and some new sort of information is uncovered that makes people at local TEDx events go “ooh.”It will happen again. And again. It’s comforting and safe. When we follow a popular point of view it provides risk-mitigation when the C-Suite wants to know why HR is doing something new. HR can point to a guru with 8 bazillion views on their youtube channel. That ads legitimacy to the choices HR makes. Doesn’t make them right – just safer.
    Social proof is a hellava drug.

Solutions? Is there one? I don’t think so.
Many times, we hear that we’re in a new “age” of business. We’ve been through the Agricultural Age, The Industrial Age, and some would say we are now in the Information Age. I’ve even seen references to the Imagination Age (I guess you could swap out “revolution” for age.)
But for me, I think we’re in the “People” Age. And that means we have to shift our thinking from “How do we make the most money for the company out of our employees’ time with the company?” vs. “How do we help employees get the most out of their time with the company and make money?”
Right now, businesses focus on cost-benefit to the company.
We ask,

“How much of my profit am I willing to give up to keep employees engaged (satisfied, happy, connected, ad nauseum)?”

The future will have to be:

“How much profit do I need to make to keep my employees engaged (satisfied, happy, connected, ad nauseum)?”

The difference in those two sentences is in the priority.
In the first, we’re worried about maximizing the dollars. In the second we’re worried about maximizing the people.
Can we make that change? I don’t know. I have little faith the current system will ever change focus. Not if executive pay packages continue to be tied to short-term goals. Not if stockholders want immediate results. Not if HR still believes it deals with people.
HR – as long as it is defined as the department for “people” – cannot meet the expectations of the C-Suite unless it adopts the point of view that the best HR can do, is to get the most out of employees for the company, while wrapping them in a soft, weighted blanket of platitudes, perks, and ping-pong tables while pushing them to do more for less. (See – alliteration works.)
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