Just when I thought we are making progress at building the credibility of the HR function as it moves from transactional work to creating business impact, a friend reminded me that the best known HR person in popular society is probably Toby from The Office. Nice. This is the guy who had a crush on the receptionist and who mustered up enough courage at the holiday party to tell Michael his Jesus costume was “inappropriate.” Not the level of business impact we hope for as HR pros.
Regardless of Toby’s failings as an operational HR person, the question for me has always been, “How many HR professionals can really articulate what their business does and what their business needs to succeed?” Not to just stay out of trouble, not to create boring policies, but what the business needs.
Then I think about an interaction I had in a graduate level HR strategy course I was in with an HR director from a local software technology firm with whom I was making small talk before class. She talked about how her week had been spent updating the company dress code and waiting for a job order to get approved by one of the “big wigs.” Seriously? That’s what you’re doing as a senior HR person? For a week? She then mentioned that too many of her software developers were on that “Twitter thing” that she was too busy to understand. The whooshing in my ears was the sound of HR’s credibility flying out the window.
Focusing solely on HR “stuff,” instead of how people issues affect the business, makes for bad HR people. I’ll admit that I am not perfect, but I have worked with really good HR people who “get it” and teach new HR pros how to learn the business first. I truly think that only after getting that knowledge can HR determine how to effectively develop HR business solutions to people issues.
But instead of bemoaning (again) the lack of a seat at the table, or for our young HR padawans who want to be the HR Capitalist some day, please ask some questions about the business to inform how you do your work. You could start with:
- What differentiates us from our top 3 competitors?
- What is the biggest market opportunity our firm is targeting right now?
- What is the biggest threat to our company’s market position?
- What talent within our business is at-risk?
- What happens if 30% of those at-risk people leave in the next 12 months?
- What senior talent does our # 1 competitor have that we should target?
- What new talent skill sets will be needed to support entry into new markets?
If you know these things, and if you have talent, you will be a better recruiter. You will be able to develop a comprehensive talent acquisition strategy that meets the needs of the business. Instead of sitting around waiting for a “job order” to get approved, the business will see you as part of the team identifying, projecting and delivering key needs. Your talent function will be seen as a core part of the business. Because remember – you don’t get to be a strategic partner until you do
something strategic. First one, then the other.
In a recent post, The HR Capitalist had this advice for HR folks who are waiting for permission to innovate and develop solutions – The next time you find yourself in whine/bitch mode, do the American economy, your family and yourself a favor and stop – and start a project on your own time that will make a difference if you deliver. Then deliver it.
Learn the business, deliver business results. It has to be in that order.
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.