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By David Harder on December, 8, 2017

Blow Up HR Again?

By and large, I read Harvard Business Review and The Atlantic to raise my IQ or, at the very least, give the appearance that I’ve done so.


Recently, HBR published, “It’s Time To Blow Up HR and build something new”.Sounds like consultant-speak to me. Much of the consulting profession puts a great deal of energy into making senior management and human resources talent feel unsure of themselves. For example, here is a quote from the article:


Recent complaints about the HR function have touched a nerve in a large; sympathetic audience, particularly in the United States. The most vocal critics say that HR managers focus too much on “administrivia” and lack vision and strategic insight.”


Does the HR profession deserve a verdict or help? Like all professions, human resources is undergoing convulsive change. I haven’t really witnessed a greater willingness to change with CEOs. Why would HR be any different? In my new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) we discuss the life skills that were always needed to support a unique career path. Today, everyone needs the same skills to thrive in a world of accelerating change. Two of these life skills include the ability to draw healthy attention to oneself as well as the skills that build customized and effective support systems. We can ill afford to continue dismissing them as “soft skills.”


It takes courage to build these skills. Regardless, as the cycles of change speed up, the need to get help, information, mentoring, access, coaching, partners, and other resources grows even more quickly.


After years of being treated as an expense, a human resources professional has to be even more mindful in understanding how to build a community that backs our success. In our Inspired Work Programs, we have witnessed many HR professionals connect with a syndrome I call, “Losing One’s Life Through Competency.” In areas treated as overhead, support systems do not grow as quickly as areas that produce direct revenue growth. For years, HR was fixated on solving problems and completing tasks. As the skills grew, the number of problems also grew. But, the support system rarely mirrored that growth. Many of these professionals came into our programs depleted because they had not strategized and voiced their own needs to be supported. As we hand-off tasks and logic-based problems to software and technology, many human resource professionals are stuck in presenting activity as their primary value rather than value itself. Compare the narratives. “I managed compensation and salary, quarterly reviews, insurance processing, and onboarding” versus “In the last two years my team developed a highly successful employer brand. As a result, goodwill towards the company skyrocketed. We cut talent acquisition costs with a dramatic increase in retention.”


As tasks fall-away, the changes facing human resources center around strategic thought, business intelligence, the ability to curate technology, and presentation skills, give and receive high-quality attention. This critical life skill is often viewed with fear. When we draw attention to ourselves, we increase the probability of getting hurt. When we decrease the amount of attention we are drawing to ourselves, we increase the risk of starving. Sounds like a conundrum doesn’t it? Many people draw just enough attention to themselves to get by but not enough to get hurt. I have met so many valuable employees who contributed a great deal but still got laid off because no one knew they were there.


Yes, presentation and consultative sales skills help every profession become more engaged and effective. If you want a line worker to take ownership of his or her work, ask them to make presentations about their work. Building extensive support systems requires doing far more than collecting connections on LinkedIn. And, instead of building connections with people like ourselves, it takes more courage to find the mentors who can show us how to succeed in this wildly new world of work.


Harvard Business Review’s article includes the following statement:

“Recent complaints about the HR function have touched a nerve in a large; sympathetic audience, particularly in the United States. The most vocal critics say that HR managers focus too much on “administrivia” and lack vision and strategic insight.”


I will give one more example of the shift and the courage needed within modern talent executives. Here is what typically how an engagement initiative is launched. The CEO walks over to human resources and tells them to, “fix the engagement problem.” By the time he or she hits the door, the CEO is disengaged from the engagement problem. Human resources start pitching employee engagement to employees. They look past that person’s shoulder to the CEO and see business as usual. They send out a survey that only serves to make managers feel even more ineffective. We send them to a retreat center and the leaders come back enthused. The employees respond, “So what?” Later, the human resource executive is shown the door for not fixing the engagement problem.


Modern talent professionals must develop the kind of leadership skills and the courage to tell a CEO, “If you don’t lead this culture and you turn that leadership over to me, we will not succeed.”


From another vantage point, many human professionals want a seat at the table but they are not especially comfortable getting there. I support organizations such as SHRM and PIRA. But, they are not showing their members how to develop strong strategic voices, to build bearing and authority, and to present their views with clarity and objectivity. In the next ten years, robotics and artificial intelligence will change how we live and breath. For many, the most valuable skill of all will be in developing one’s voice.


Today’s most desired and effective human resource professionals coach the CEO. They link talent to business strategy. They tie the need to invest in human capital to business outcomes. They have the courage to do the right thing. For example, how many women human resource professionals have quietly paid off other women who were the targets of sexual harassment, rather than showing the perpetrator the door? I am not suggesting they didn’t want to. I am suggesting that it is time to develop the courage to speak up, to tell others that if we pay this person off, we are setting the stage for harassment to happen again and again. When we give 2 million to an ex-employee, we are not telling her that she is that valuable. We are showing the perpetrator he is that valuable.


The most cynical human resource professionals believe work requires continual compromise. The most successful talent executives that I know do the right thing, speak up, and make such a strong business case with that message that positive change takes place.


I believe that articles that point out what is wrong with a particular category of work are only perpetuating the blame game. What the human resource profession needs courage, strategic thinking, and letting go of tasks.


In one of our client companies, there is a talent management executive who lives and breaths the ethos. At the beginning of every year, she gets a new assistant. One the first day of his or her work, she sits them down and tells them, “You have one year to either get promoted or to leave the company.” With that kind of commitment, she is telling them they have to rise above the tasks and the job. Her company is filled with directors, producers, department managers and executives who started as the assistant.


Todays’ workers and especially our executives cannot afford to settle for the job.


Live life as if your hair is on fire.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.


(C) Copyright, 2017, Inspired Work, Inc. – (All Rights Reserved)


If you would like to discuss your workplace or your career with David Harder, schedule fifteen-minutes, Here.