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By David Harder on July, 23, 2015

Blow Up Hr – Again?

I love Harvard Business Review. Between The Atlantic Review and HBR help me appear to have at least an additional 10 IQ points.

However, this months cover story “It’s Time To Blow Up HR and build something new” offers little in terms of new thought and misses the boat on the most critical issues.

In the article, “Why We Hate HR,” one of the captions reads,

“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.”

We knew that.

At times, it is difficult to tell if the intended reader is the HR executive or the CEO. This leads to the crux of a major problem. Much of HBR’s articles speak to CEOs in how to elevate the function of human resources. But, we ought to be looking forging an entirely new relationship between the CEO and Chief Human Resource Officer.

Pointedly, category leaders and organizations that hit the “best places to work” lists have cultures that are led by the CEO or business owner.

Many of us tend to hide in our competencies. Many CEOs are not especially comfortable in taking charge of their cultures. Many human resource professionals are not especially comfortable in taking the stands that earn a seat at the table.

All too often, CEOs turn the “culture problem” over to human resources. We expect human resources to fix employee engagement, to strengthen its talent initiative and to do anything that can increase retention or lower costs.

Common sense only dictates that chief human resource officers ought to be at the table with the CEO and CFO. We are headed into a new talent war and as human resources becomes more valued, it is equally important that it doesn’t become intoxicated with the experience.

Because if we are to truly succeed, it is the CEO that must send the message of becoming a great employer, of insisting on full engagement, of building a culture where talent is always valued. Because, in the absence of that leadership, the people will be looking right past human resources watching and waiting to see if the CEO is telling the truth, walking the talk, getting ready to lay off more workers and will all too often take any ancillary messages about human capital with a grain of salt.

Let’s step back into the topic of discomfort. Human resource executives belong at the table. But, it is also time to coach the CEO to take charge of his or her culture. It is time to teach them how to do that. And, It is time to be persistent in that quest.

Louis Gerstner once said,

“The world is full of CEOs that think that just because they write a memo or they write a letter inside an annual report or they give a little video speech that gets sent around to the company, they think that’s what’s really going to affect employees.”

It takes so much more.

In almost every leading organization, the CEO is right there with everybody and their impact can turn our perception of success on its head.

An example:

Did you know that the average tenure of full-time cashiers at Trader Joe’s is eighteen years? John Shields is credited with taking the company from a small regional specialty grocer in 1988 to a national powerhouse.

He said,

“I go to every store and ask the employees what corporate is doing to mess things up and then I change it.”

He listened and as a result, the employees of Trader Joe’s are insanely loyal.

My point can and in some cases will be shot down with cynicism or even contempt.

But, before you retire this idea, take out a highlighter and open Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Place to Work issues and look for what these organizations have in common. At the core, you will find CEOs that do indeed work closely with human resources. But, you will also find the same CEOs leading the charge. You will find CEOs that have taken charge of the human capital equation. As a result, you will find human resource executives who are more valuable than ever.

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