Key Influencers: Observable Trends

On November 12, 2009, in HRExaminer, John Sumser, Movers/Shakers, by John Sumser

By John Sumser

Here are a few of the things I’m discovering as I interview people for the Key Influencers project. I’ve recently crossed the 180 interview threshold.

The unconfirmed word on the street is that in the Fortune 500, 130 of the Chief HR Officers (or whatever you call the person with that title) are alumni of the Pepsi HR system. I’m discovering an interesting bias in the market that involves these folks. That’s an astonishing track record. (The next closest is GE with about 40). It even looks like there’s a market (recruiting) to support it.

Pepsi alums seem to:

* Be really goal oriented and focused,
* Not particularly believe in SHRM,
* Believe in job rotation,
* Give really big assignments to young leaders,
* Care about outcomes not processes
* Look at company wide human capital trends not department specifics
* Expect the HR Function to perform at a certain level
* Network with each other,
* Know about the careers of other Pepsi alums

Another trend involves ’schools of HR thought’. These are spheres of influence that coalesce around a particular theory.

Some segments of the profession align themselves with particular schools of organizational design and psychology. There are a number of faculty at USC, Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Wharton who command interesting followings. There are smaller contingents in Chicago, DC and San Francisco.

There’s a real question about whether or not best practices actually work. HR is so diverse by industry and region that a really good idea in one setting can be a disaster in another. For instance, the treatment of attrition has an entirely different meaning in consumer facing (restaurant, hospitality and retail) than it does in information systems and biotech.

In one case, you want to increase retention in specific jobs. In the other, you want to increase retention in the company while decreasing it in specific jobs.

There don’t seem to be many magic bullets. That’s because great HR is focused on business results and not the measurement of internal processes.

Here’s my favorite example of the week.

A very large informationish institution on the East Coast is reorienting its recruiting function. From now on, 75% of the work of the 300 members of the recruiting team will be internal. They are going to compete head to head with the executive search firms who have been raiding their talent coffers.

The company has given its recruiting team a mandate to find capable internal players for any opening and to pursue them as aggressively as a competitor would. The recruiters don’t need the boss’ permission.

The net effect is to create opportunistic career paths while never allowing people to rest on their laurels. The company believes that this is the key to massive productivity improvement and deeper levels of agility.

The idea is potent enough to spread without someone collecting so-called best practices. What’s interesting about the HR Industry is that excellence is happening in pockets rather than across the board. The success stories that make the most sense are not being transmitted. It’s a problem with the current information structure of the space.

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