Naomi Bloom is a speaker, award winning and well published author, and a key contributor to many of today’s best practices in HRM enterprise software. Naomi is also a Fellow of the Human Resource Policy Institute at Boston University and a Member of the Enterprise Irregulars.
- What do you think HR’s role should be in setting and executing business strategy?
We’ve been asking this question since 1967 when I graduated from university. And it bothers me that after more than 50 years, we’re still asking it!
HR ought to be a critical player, not just an advisor. There are questions that every business asks that HR should be instrumental in answering:
- What work are we going to do versus buy?
- Where are we going to do it?
- Which work will be done via humans, automation, robots?
- For the work to be done by humans, when should we use employees versus contingent workers?
- How are we going to organise ourselves to do it – what competencies are needed?
- How do we avoid problems – so we don’t get put in jail, in the Wall Street Journal, in regulatory hell?
The reality is that most of HR is still female, although the leadership is often male. That’s not to say that the men are better qualified – there are a whole lot of incompetent men out there too. But a recent SHRM conference was a real eye-opener. It was full of women collecting giveaways! And although the motivational sessions and regulatory sessions were well attended, if there was anything of a more strategic nature, there was little interest.
The lion’s share of the problem is the poor business competencies in HR – the lack of mastery of the subject matter, personal qualities of leadership, and understanding and being effective in the political scene. CFOs have really blossomed, so why has HR not? I think it’s because CFOs ask the big business questions.
- Are HR and business strategies optimally aligned to deliver organisational performance outcomes?
No, they are not. HR needs to understand how to support the business with the challenges it faces, such as speed-to-market, ramping up new operations, business metrics, etc. Instead, HR is focused on ‘easy to measure’ metrics such as time to hire, training completion rates or flight risk. HR should be concerned about the metrics that have meaning in the business.
HR needs to be asking the right questions: If the business is focused on revenue and profitability, HR must first determine what are the drivers of these? Then, HR should ask: How can we impact these drivers and what are the people implications of doing so? HR typically does not ask these questions.
- Do you believe that the current momentum to “reinvent performance management” will succeed in improving overall business performance?
We can change the process all we want and some of that is really good. But we’re missing the point of the underlying issues: who have we hired and how do our managers manage them? There are all sorts of variables that can impact performance and these need to be understood first. The process overlay should not be the main focus.
Think of it this way: When I’m bleeding, a Band-Aid is a good thing to help stop the bleeding, that’s sensible. But when it keeps happening (as is the case with performance management), we need to look at why it keeps happening and address the actual issue. Looking at performance in isolation and not understanding all the performance improvement levers is missing the point. We need some hard thinking on this, but not in the abstract – we need to think about it within the context of the company’s business needs and performance levers.
- How should organisations be thinking about maintaining individual and organisational learning at the levels necessary in future?
The foundational competencies for employees are:
- knowing how to learn;
- knowing how to avail yourself of the tools of learning;
- having the discipline to apply those tools;
- possessing critical thinking skills; and
- having the communication skills that allow you to formalise and contribute your thoughts.
Today’s people don’t have all these foundational competencies. Most of us are overwhelmed with just getting through the day so the time and mental energy to learn is not there. Too often we wait for others to drive our development, but employees should lead their own development. There is a MOOC course for anything you need to know these days and they are mostly free and accessible to everyone.
An organisation’s role is to help employees understand the capabilities they need to have now and in the future. HR should shape the competency frameworks to which people should aspire. Employers are in the best position to know what’s needed [and employees can determine how to get the education they need]. HR also must focus on delivering the training that is not readily available online – supervisor training, cross cultural skills, preparation for public communications, presentations, press, etc.
- What are the HR metrics that really matter to business?
HR needs to start by understanding how money gets made in the company. By getting deep into the process by which products and services are brought to market, HR can better understand the dynamics of the critical performance levers. Then, HR can find the right formula to determine what the people side of the business needs to do.
So, ask how does money get made, what’s getting in the way of making more money, and what can HR do about it?
- What can or should HR be taking/learning from the evolution of other business functions, such as marketing, IT, finance, operations?
In the past, it was enough to just know HR. But, what is expected now is that you are a business person first that happens to have an expertise in HR. The take-away has to be:
- If you don’t know technology – you’re toast.
- If you’re not actively disrupting – you will be the one disrupted.
- If you’re not at the centre of decision making – decisions will be made without you.
In a nutshell, HR must be a business person first.
About The Author
Managing Partner , Bloom & Wallace
Naomi Boom is a speaker, award winning and well published author, and a key contributor to many of today’s best practices in HRM enterprise software. Naomi is also a Fellow of the Human Resource Policy Institute at Boston University and a Member of the Enterprise Irregulars.