Saturday, June 14, 2008

Old order changes for HR crew

Old order changes for HR crew

C Mahalingam

Times could not have been better for human resources (HR) professionals. Till recently, it was the manufacturing, finance, marketing, public relations and quality functions which caught the attention of the organised sector. The time has come for HR professionals to take centre stage and drive the business agenda.

This journey wasn’t easy. HR professionals have been going through a “crisis of credibility”. They have been under the microscope. Managing knowledge workers, winning respect and sustaining it are not easy. In the knowledge era, organisations are aware of how intellectual capital can be generated, enhanced and leveraged to be a winner in the market place. But why are HR professionals under the microscope?

There are four reasons for this. The first reason is: The HR profession has not been able to substantiate its contribution to the business as effectively as other professions like marketing, quality and public relations. It was considered more as a support function, helping organisations with statutory compliances or “being a watchdog”.

There has not been any perceptible value creation to the business or to business leaders. There have been studies in the last 20 years on how people practices have enhanced the bottomline and topline for companies. Measuring HR for results has gained momentum. HR profession has accumulated what HR guru Dave Ulrich has called “frou-frou” HR practices. These are practices that are touted as panacea for all organisational challenges without any evidence. The business relevance of many of these practices has not been established well enough.

There have been no entry barriers into the profession. While a profession gets enriched by the entry of professionals from different backgrounds, certain standards and code of ethics go a long way for the profession to earn respect and enhance its standards. HR profession represents a melting pot for people with many backgrounds, but has no standards to measure and monitor the quality of professional practices. The problem is more wide-spread than confined to acquiring a degree in personnel management or human resources.

Almost all professions have two key components to making it a profession. The first is professional practice comprising a set of practices adopted by professionals. Second is decision science relating to the profession which guides those not practising the profession but want to apply the principles of the profession.

For example, sales represents a professional practice for sales professionals while marketing represents a decision science for others wanting to use the principles of the sales profession. HR professionals have borrowed the principles of Return on Investment from the decision science of finance and employer branding from the decision science of marketing. A profession becomes full-fledged when it has professional practice and decision science. The decision science for HR is still in infancy stage and emerging.

Secondly, there are several reasons why HR professionals lack credibility today.

HR professionals need to realise that they have to continuously learn and hone their competencies. Everything we have known about the market place, competition and customers are changing. So, it is imperative that HR professionals reflect at regular intervals if their competencies are relevant.

Ever since the Microsoft Office was created and popularised, many HR professionals tend to consider themselves a great HR executive if they are good at MS-Word, a great compensation & benefits professional if they are good at MS-Excel and at the high end of it, consider themselves a great VP of HR, if they become proficient in MS-Power Point.

HR requires delivering professional practices with a great attitude. This involves turning knowledge into action, being confident and credible, building healthy relationships at work and standing for values. When HR professionals fall short of these, they come under scrutiny.

If you ask CEOs, you will hear their perception about HR professionals as being from a very different planet than they are from. Many HR professionals suffer from “pussy cat syndrome”. They talk big and deliver little. Execution has not been their forte. This is partly because they have chosen to be ‘underdogs’ allowing the rest of the organisation to dictate what they should do and should not.

New agenda for HR professionals:

The new agenda for HR professionals calls for a very proactive role in the value creation process. Given the knowledge era we are living in, HR professionals hold the key to creating competitive advantage through sustainable creation of intellectual capital. Dave Ulrich has a very simple definition of what intellectual capital is.

It is Competence X Commitment. HR professionals build competence through one or more of the six strategies involving buy (hire from the market), build (train internally), borrow (take help from consulting or outsourcing), boost (promote talent), bounce (drop those who do not deliver) and bind (retain the talented people). They enhance commitment through multiple engagement strategies including communication, compensation, culture, career planning and the like.

Creating value begins with a deep understanding of the business — deep enough to understand the implications of business for designing appropriate people practices and delivering the necessary tools for business managers to use.

When the CEO expects HR function to change the kind of laid-back culture into a high performance one, HR professionals often raise the performance appraisal system and find out later that nothing has changed. When the value creation requires creating of certain organisational capabilities, the HR professionals often focus on sporadic feel-good training programmes.

The new agenda for HR professionals revolves around moving from doables to deliverables. Value creation calls for a shift in the thinking-doing process of HR professionals. Understanding business drivers from the strategy map and role of HR as facilitators or enablers will be a starting point.

Diagnosing the organisation to understand what capabilities are needed to help execute strategies and how employee behaviours can be shaped to focus on strategy execution is the next step. Other priorities include assessing the quality of leadership and identifying potential leaders and groom them early.

Organisations are going through change. Cross-border consolidation in terms of mergers and acquisitions, demanding pace of innovation and the churn of talent perpetuated by their global mobility, etc., make HR function and professionals the key change agents for the organisation. Therefore, building the necessary resilience and capability for change is yet another agenda for HR professionals.

HR competencies for the future would include business acumen, managing change, culture transformation, and diversity management besides measurement of the effectiveness of people initiatives, personal credibility and high emotional intelligence. There will only be two types of HR managers, (a) Those who become strategic and contribute to business and their own growth; and (b) those who are not and hence are fired and forgotten. The choice is clear for HR professionals.

(The author is executive vice-president & chief people officer, Symphony Services Corporation)

Source : ET

Read the Previous Posts