I remember the time when I was working in Pharmaceuticals (how sad is to start a sentence with ‘I remember the time…’) in R&D and Commercial positions. On those days, there was an unwritten rule about people going seriously up the ladder: ‘you have to do Sales’. Marketers were sent to the sales force before becoming Business Units leaders. Even finance, manufacturing, HR people. Notably not those of us in R&D, considered a sort of expensive, necessary evil and disconnected from the real world. We were, after all, and were told many times, a Cost Centre. It may have been just that one particular company I was working for, obsessed with moving people around functions to the point of absurdity.
In 2015, I’d like to propose a rule that anybody in a managerial position, in serious path towards higher leadership one, should do time in HR for at least 6 months. No Sales, sorry, HR. This would have two effects. One, understanding the world from that perspective, as opposed to ‘being served, and two, populate HR with real business people. I don’t know which one is more important. My secret intention would be that, by a company repeating this for a good couple of years, their HR function will be re-invented. Or at least a sort of Genetically Modified HR will emerge.
For all the attempts to re-position itself as ‘Business Partner’ (a horrible term that naively presumes parity with ‘the partners’ just by using the label), HR in many places is not catching up with the times. I wonder whether it will ever catch up without genetic re-engineering. Similarly, ‘the business’ continues to see HR as a Servant, Fire-fighter Department, Procurement folks for leadership and training packages and providers of Competence Systems outsourced to a Quantum physicist for its creation. Oh, they also do training stuff.
I am conscious that this is a sweeping generalization. But if you look at the themes of HR conferences and congresses, the content of HR online outlets, the language and narrative used, you can feel the struggle of trying to make sense of an elusive Human Capital ‘function’, whilst still having toolkits and narratives invented moons ago. When the world is gone into Ferrari mode, HR is improving the bicycle all then time. The gods of IT have of course landed in this territory and a new hope of technology-driven HR is very noisy. ‘The business’ does not understand HR/OD/L&D other than as keepers of supermarket shelves full of ‘services’. The gulf, in 2015, is shocking. And we need each other more than ever.
So here is the rule: an HR department will be formed 50/50 by HR professionals and Business Leaders, the latter seconded for 6 months minimum. Everybody wins here. For ‘HR department’ I mean the spectrum from Compensations and Benefits, generalists, specialists in staffing, Organizational Development, Learning and Development… You see? So many tribes in the spectrum that in may large companies these are split.
‘Business Partner’ is not enough. It was a good try though. The modern organization needs a vibrant Human Capital ‘function’ that is both strategic and tactical. “People are our most important assets’, but the Assets Fund Managers may need some upgrade. (Only 5 % of HR leaders considered their own function ‘excellent’, and 34% ‘good’, in the recent Global Human Capital Trends 2015 by Deloitte).
First step, stop seeing HR as a one way ‘service’. Get them to the high table. Genetically modify the function. For the record, we all are HR. Whatever your function, Sales, Marketing, Communications, Operations, Commercial, CFO, COO, CEO, Post Room.
Business is HR, plus the laptops.