As did several other FOT’ers (e.g., William Tincup, Tim Sackett, Steve Boese and Kris Dunn – those were the folks I saw – if you were there and I didn’t see you… oops), I attended the HRevolution and HR Technology Conferences in Chicago last week. I had a lot of fun. I saw old friends, made new ones, spoke to industry luminaries whom I admire, and otherwise enjoyed learning new things.
There were really good small group discussions at HRevolution. There were thought-provoking panels on analytics, enterprise social, and mobility at HR Tech. There were almost 300 vendors on the Expo floor, and a couple others who managed to capture my attention, even without flashy booths and swag. There were a lot of parties with free-flowing food and beverages. There was just… a lot of stuff being shown, talked about, hailed as the next great thing for HR practitioners, workforces, and businesses. And yet, for all the technology, the conversations, the panels, the… STUFF, I still came away with the same question I always come away with: even with all this STUFF, why is HR still often missing the mark in really driving business outcomes?
Two experiences have me thinking about this question even more intensely than the usual post-conference brainfuzz. The first was the last HR Tech session I attended, a presentation on HR and social from Yvette Cameron (Twitter handle: @YvetteCameron) of Constellation Research. During her discussion, Yvette made a quiet comment that struck me like a speeding BART train: HR technologies, generally speaking, do not enable or help everyday employees to get work done. In many cases, HR technologies (and processes) add work that isn’t deemed valuable or useful by those outside of HR. Okay….. thinking about that, it makes sense (the recovering OD practitioner in me squirms uncomfortably).
The second experience was reading a blog by Alan Collins over at Success in HR called 18 Things I Wish We Would STOP Doing in Human Resources…. Number two on Alan’s list caught my eye:
“2. Let’s stop cutting the “workers” before cutting the “work itself” and then pretending we’ve improved productivity. Sure, it looks great on the P&L. Wall Street loves it. But have we really improved the organization when 30 “survivors” are doing the work that 50 FTE’s used to do and are suffering in silence and so frustrated they’re suicidal.”
My interpretation of this rant: HR is culpable in more ways than one in preventing employees from getting good, valuable work done. Not only do we add work (even if it is enabled with technologies), we then don’t take work
away, even when we often help shrink the number of people within the organization expected to do the work (including our HR brethren).
Okay, so, these two points have me really thinking. For so long now, we have been working hard to prove the value of the HR function, processes, information, and technologies to the business. In some cases, business leaders understand, buy into, and incorporate the value into the organization. But in so many organizations, across so many industries, this still has not happened. And maybe, just maybe, the reason why is because, in many cases, we still push HR OUT, instead of bringing the BUSINESS IN. We still focus too much on grand programs, rather than focused solutions to business problems – current and future. We want business leaders to undertake integrated, end-to-end talent management, when the truly value-adding talent solutions need to be focused on specific challenges and opportunities. We implement integrated or unified HCM technologies with “actionable analytics” and social collaboration mechanisms built in, and in getting managers and employees to use them, we think we’re empowering the organization with workforce and talent data to make decisions. Maybe the value isn’t in having data at the fingertips, but instead in pulling data to illustrate a specific problem and then model several potential solutions.
With my latest job shift, I’ve had the opportunity to work with non-HR functions more, and I am learning that IT, marketing, sales, operations, R&D, etc., just flat out expect that they will have data about their people (whether HR provides it or not – they get it somewhere). They expect that they will review performance in ways that make sense to their function and their goals (whether it is an HR-initiated and authored process or not). What they need are thought partners, co-strategists, and agile teammates to help them understand a problem or an opportunity, to pinpoint the behavioral aspects of it, and devise a few solution options that are a) executable, and b) as painless as possible.
I am sure that many HR practitioners, especially those that read FOT, will argue that they do that, and I have no doubt that they do in some fashion. My question are these: are we able to be thought-partners, co-strategists and agile teammates working on solutions to problems, without adding unnecessary work to our leaders’ and employees’ plates? Or do we think we’re adding value because we’re adding work steps? Or do we believe that the work steps we propose to add are value-added, and it’s the others that don’t get it? These questions are keeping me up nights now. Because I want to add value to an organization, not just more work.