It’s been a big year for Rachel Walker. The new National President of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand has had a busy introduction to the role and is having to do something none of her predecessors have done – find a new CEO for the institute. In addition, she got to spend some quality time with Dave Ulrich when he was keynote speaker at the HRINZ conference in Wellington. It is suitable that Rachel wraps up this series of guest posts by looking at how perceptions of HR need to change.
Why so misunderstood?????
It sounds like a song title, but why is HR so misunderstood? One of my personal bug-bears is the common misperception that HR is the same beast it was 20 years ago. In making that assumption, there is a lack of recognition of the contribution HR can make to create value for the business. What a shame this is news to so many people.
The psychologist in me knows that the recent spate of social media articles panning HR are really just designed to generate attention for the authors, in the hope they will get their 30 seconds of fame and up their readership. I’d just prefer that they get their facts straight or picked on another profession, can they not pick on our marketing cousins for example (and no I’m not suggesting we do!)?
Why is it that people feel a need to run down a profession based on their inaccurate and outdated views? There are many models along these lines, but Professor Dave Ulrich talks about 4 waves in the evolution of HR development and I paraphrase below:
1. HR administrative utility (I tend to think of this as the old personnel function). This wave focuses on the terms and conditions of work, delivery of some services and regulatory compliance e.g. preparation of employment agreements, administration of allowances/payroll. The activities are transactional.
2. HR functional expertise (I think of this as operational HR). This includes the development of innovations in leadership development, rewards, succession planning etc. This wave is characterised by credible HR best practice. This tends to be what line managers think HR is about and they either complain about us setting rules or love that we do it for them so they don’t have to.
3. HR strategy (where the focus is on making HR more strategic and adding value through developing HR Business Partner capabilities). HR takes the business strategy and develops people based priorities to support it. HR credibility comes from being at the top table, engaged in strategic conversations.
4. HR from the Outside-In (where HR aligns its work with the business context and stakeholders). HR is involved in establishing the corporate strategy with a focus on the external customer and what they want from the business. Under this model, HR doesn’t just add value, they create it due to their genuine understanding of the context they are operating within. This is transformational HR, where people practices are defined by the “yet to happen”, requiring the ability to identify emerging trends possibly unseen by others.
I have seen all these waves of HR. I have met people who think HR is only about waves 1 and 2. I find it particularly disappointing when these are people with HR in their title and sad that they think our vibrant profession is about a set of tools and processes. Fortunately most HR people in my view do understand and operate at wave 3 to at least some degree, but I can’t imagine a more frustrating experience than thinking people practices mean following processes and filling in forms!
We are starting to see advertisements now (there was a notable one in August this year) clearly targeting professionals who operate in the fourth wave – specifically asking us to leave the wave 1 and 2 material behind. There are technological solutions aplenty that streamline wave 1, and more recently wave 2. That’s what technology is for – helping us with the routine.
So the real question in my mind is if wave 4 is alive and well in New Zealand, and if so, why isn’t that better recognised? I have to say hell yes it is, there are many business focused people here who happen to manage the HR function. Unfortunately some of those choose to distance themselves from our profession as if they are embarrassed by it. Please don’t take this to mean I feel this is true of all people with the GMHR or similar badge, as this is far from the case. But what is wrong with the public image of HR if people doing the job distance themselves from the label?
So how do we change this reluctance to be seen as an HR person or the lack of understanding among other professions of what HR is about? Recently HRINZ bought the world number one thinker in HR to New Zealand. We are seeing more top class HR professionals wanting to participate in improving the image of the profession. Most importantly I believe, we are seeing people with HR backgrounds moving into CEO roles and Directorships.
I have been fortunate enough to be selected by the Institute of Directors (IOD) for their Mentoring for Diversity program, which aims to increase the number of women on NZX boards. What was interesting was the number of other women accepted who come from HR aligned backgrounds. I’m always surprised at how few HR people I know are members of the IOD or who participate in their activities. If we want to change the perception of ourselves and our background, we need to be seen by Directors, CEOs, CFOs and the like as creating value – they can’t know we do this if they don’t see us in such environments and as their equals.
My advice to HR people is to keep abreast of the implications of the likes of the Ulrich model and continue your development along those lines; be proud to be in HR and be an ambassador, correcting mis-perceptions when you have the opportunity; contribute to the profession and be active in broader business meetings, groups and programs.
Participate in marketing just who we are and what we can do, if only others knew we could do it.
Sell the secret.
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #1
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The 12 Blogs of Christmas – my gift to you