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Does Human Resources Deserve More Respect?

Blog One in the “HR as the Killer App” series

By Diane Bock

Diane BockA person at the recent ASTD conference in Washington, D.C. wrote this in her presentation evaluation:

“It doesn't seem that HR programs or staff get the respect or responsiveness we need.”

What’s up with that? Is HR not respected?

I think we all know something about this, but just for fun, let me illustrate our situation with a blast-from-the-past analogy. There’s this great scene in the old Mary Tyler Moore show where our beloved title character, Mary Richards, volunteers to help a troubled girl through the wonderful Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Her pal Murray is skeptical. He doubts that sweet gentle Mary has the know-how and fortitude to deal with “juvenile delinquents,” who’ve “been around” in perhaps somewhat more challenging life situations than those in Mary’s experience. Mary takes umbrage, protesting with this now classic line, “I’ve been around! Alright, I might not have been around, but I’ve been….nearby.

Human Resources RespectAnd it’s precious because the viewers don’t really believe that Mary has been around or nearby. Even Mary’s assigned little sister calls her “a real Suzy cream cheese.”

How is this analogous to real life and HR? Murray’s skepticism resembles how business leaders view the Human Resources function. Many executives believe that their HR group does not understand the real world of business and is populated by affable people who have big hearts but not much expertise. And that’s on a good day.

On a bad day, leaders skewer the HR function as being an obstruction to the business.  Some of the press on the shortcomings of HR has been scathing. Fast Company magazine waxes unpoetically on Why We Hate HR. A Forbes magazine contributor argues that It's Time For Companies To Fire Their Human Resource Departments. OMG! Them’s fightin’ words!

While we can pause for a moment to roll our eyes at such vitriolic stances, we are perfectly willing to face facts. Behind these smarty pants headlines, there is real evidence that HR is not currently contributing what we could be, hence the lack of respect. We are already asking the questions: What key steps do we take? Is there a role model we can look to?

Jack and Suzy Welch envision a future where organizations elevate HR and employee management to the same level of professionalism and status as Finance and financial management. They see a world where HR is every organization's killer app. And there is a role model for that. Consider the transformation of corporate financial roles from back in the 1970s up to now. Back then (I’m told), the financial people were mastering calculators and sitting at the metaphorical kiddie table. If bean counters can make their way to the strategy table, so can we HR weenies! As Jack and Suzy say, “Since people are the whole game, what could be more important?”

Many experts agree that businesses have long under-invested in building their HR functions. According to a study by Bersin, the need to reskill HR was rated one of the top five challenges in every geography around the world. This research shows statistically that high-performing companies invest in HR skill development and specialization.

I’m thinking that this is the place to start. And here’s the beauty part. When you need to get funding for upskilling HR, it won’t be for something you want to do TO the business, it will be to enable you to do something FOR the business. Right? I mean, business leaders want high performance, and an HR department that has the chops to be the killer app is an important and proven way to do that.

Everyone, business and HR leaders alike, wants HR and Talent functions to step up their strategic impact. The HR mission—and the path to respect—needs to be laser-focused on helping the business execute on its strategy and objectives. Bersin says, “In 2014, if you aren't reinvesting in HR, your business is likely to fall behind.”

To help you get started, “Talent Management Acumen” is identified by the Corporate Executive Board as a top competency needed to improve HR’s strategic effectiveness. Therefore, I invite you and those you lead to make sure you have a solid grounding in the principles of talent management aligned to business needs. I think you’ll find this white paper on effective talent management very worthwhile.

Meanwhile, I’ll devote a few upcoming blogs to additional ideas for building HR Talent Management into your organization’s killer app. The goal will be to help you to drive your organization’s success and avoid some common pitfalls along the way.

And what about Mary Richards? Was she able to handle a bigger role and boost her ability to have a positive impact? She started out shaky as a big sister. Her juvenile delinquent stole money from Murray’s desk, and right under Mary’s nose! Were the doubters right? No! Mary picked up a new approach and effectively turned that underprivileged teenager away from a life of crime. The TV show theme song is right. You’re gonna make it after all!

Diane Bock is a senior consultant for DDI’s Leadership Solutions Group and is passionate about helping organizations drive business results through people.

Posted: 20 Aug, 2014,
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