2009: A New Future for HR

Our hope lies in the new, blasting through the concrete of gloom. We have a new world order, led by new leaders, championing new ideals and crafting new strategies to save us from the new threats of the day. New president (US), new political party (SA) and a new financial landscape. And a woodpecker has alerted me to new HR Directors taking office in local companies. Cynics will be out in numbers, having been disappointed over and over again by the promise of new.

Will “new” be different this year in your organisation?

Let us examine the state of HR from the other side.

In August 2005, Fast Company carried an explosive article, Why we hate HR by their deputy editor, Keith H Hammmonds. The article sparked fierce debated from HR executives and professionals on the ground. Given the significance of attracting and retaining talent for the business, it asked “why does human resources do such a bad job – and how can we fix it?” Notwithstanding the potential of HR to drive business performance, it consistently fell short. The writer asserted that HR was hardly a “strategic partner” nor leaders at the executive table. HR was a “dark bureaucratic force” and hindered organisational change. HR was fingered for useless performance appraisals, cutting benefits and poor communication. The writer went on: the best people don’t go into HR, HR professionals are not equipped for business and HR concentrates on efficiency over value.  HR is “stuck” and wasting the opportunity to create a competitive advantage for the organisation.

Three and half years later, how far has HR traveled in your organisation?

Do line management and staff hate HR? Do they find back doors to work around HR? Or ignore HR at every corridor?  When I talk to executives and HR professionals, some having dedicated 30 years to the field, I find widespread disillusionment along the lines of the article above. HR takes one step forward and three back. The organisations that we rate highly in surveys; applaud at HR conferences and analyse in MBA classes, don’t quite match the experience of people working there. If you study the financial giants that collapsed last year, many of them have been highly rated employers or used as model companies by management gurus. The people inside tell a different story.

I believe that HR has the courage and the means to invent a new future.

The first battle ground is the reporting line: HR must not report to the FD, it must occupy an equal seat at the executive table. Then we need HR Executives that are worthy of the position. Window dressing for the sake of an EE appointment is out. While qualifications and experience are required, the values compass of the individual is more so. For HR to unlock the power of talent, you can’t have an individual that is spineless, dishonest or corrupt. Get the workforce to vote each year on whether the HR Executive keeps his job or is shown the door. We also need a new age HR professional. Individuals with a radical streak; committed to performance and passionate about business + talent. Not just talent. After decades of Industrial Age conditioning, you won’t find many of these individuals in the market. The new stuff – innovative ideas, projects and measures come thereafter.

Until next month, I urge you to make a new start in your organisation. 

To quote Obama, “Yes we can!” 


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