HR is at a crossroad in its evolution. In recent years, it is common to see HR bashed and maligned as an outdated function. Now and then, conversations occur that describe how HR can ascend to the same level as other respected business functions. I contend that now is the perfect time for HR all over the world to use our collective specialized expertise to help our companies to perform better.
Technology advancements, big data, analytics, and automation has transformed the business landscape. The landscape changes supported HR’s first wave of our evolution. The first wave was to embrace technology and then collect, analyze and provide meaningful “people” data to our business stakeholders. It is unfortunate that some HR practitioners have yet to accept the rising demand, and are yet to deliver more decision-shaping data to customers. This only reinforces pundits’ negative views on HR’s value.
HR teams that collect, analyze and report consistently on relevant data are ready to enter the second wave. The second wave will combine technology, predictive analytics, and HR’s unique strengths. Integrating these three pillars will strengthen business decision making and actions concerning talent and culture. HR is in prime position to become the hub of a company’s organizational intelligence.
Data and technology provide concrete facts and information. So what’s next? What do we do with all this information? This is where astute HR practitioners will rise to the next level and differentiate themselves.
The next level will produce a competitive market advantage when well-designed “people” strategies and, more importantly, the execution of these strategies are achieved. Smart HR leaders recognize this and know it is HR’s time to shine. Our progress will be furthered by talented HR professionals who possess these unique strengths not often found in abundance in other areas of an organization.
Up, down and across organizational knowledge – Unlike other functions, full access allows HR to be more connected and attuned to our workforces. Effective HR departments will have a pulse on the whole organization. Organizational knowledge uncovers many components that are indicators of a company’s health. A few broad facets that impact short-term and long-term business outcome are employee engagement, productivity, knowledge management, recruitment and retention, leadership effectiveness, succession planning, and total rewards. Intelligent HR practices can influence all of these.
Likewise, organizational knowledge is the cornerstone to understand, develop, maintain or change company culture as well as be attuned to the changing needs of employees. Wide visibility and deep organizational knowledge place HR in a pivotal position to make a significant impact.
Nonpartisan strategist, advisor and enabler – Perhaps more than other functions within a company, HR is a function whose main objective is to ensure that the entire workforce is successful. When HR’s intent and actions are viewed as fair, insightful and intelligent, HR members become respected internal advisors. HR must ensure that it first establishes the foundation of credibility and trust. After this foundation is formed, HR will draw on our professional expertise to guide our stakeholders on the best “people” strategies and actions.
Perspective-taking and empathy – Competent HR professionals are skilled at perspective taking. Perspective-taking is the ability to see various sides of an argument or another person’s alternative views. HR’s role often requires us to take an unbiased, investigative approach to daily address employee matters. Perspective-taking is an important element of emotional intelligence, effective leadership, negotiation, and inclusion initiatives. HR has a unique opportunity to display and teach others the positive ability of perspective-taking.
Empathy is another desirable leadership trait. Empathy is different than perspective-taking. Whereas perspective-taking is the process of seeing another point of view, empathy is the emotional understanding and feeling for others. In Dr. Annie McKee’s insightful HBR article about empathy, she closes with, “People want to feel loved and appreciated at work – and if you’re not giving them that, you’re not succeeding as a leader.”
Individualized, tactful, meaningful communication – HR folks listen and talk to people every day. It’s part of our job. We are constantly using our communication skills to influence and persuade. It is often HR who holds tough discussions with our stakeholders. Granted some of us are better than others at these much-needed business skills. Inside HR walls, we all know a spineless manager who sends his/her people problems directly to HR instead of handling it on their own.
Marketing experts are great communicators; however, they are rarely required to tailor their message to tell employees their performance is less than acceptable or influence a senior leader to alter his/her behavior. HR does and we need to do it with courage, tact, and empathy. There is a big opportunity here because everyone’s communication skills have the potential to be improved. Meaningful, individualized communication strategies are another area where HR can “move the needle” inside our companies.
A few years ago, a brilliant (and slightly arrogant) IT department head said to me, “Technology is all you need to run a business.” My response to him was, “but you still need people to develop technology, run businesses, lead people, and buy products and services.” He was silent.
Again, it’s HR’s time to shine.