I am dissatisfied by the present, rather pessimistic discourse among people in HR. HRM has gone through an incredible development in the last twenty years. Its role has changed, the competence base required to perform in this functional area is radically different, and the legitimacy of the function has grown so much. Most colleges offer programs in HRM, and leading management journal fro practitioner publish article on HR.
Still, when I hang around with people in this function, the discussion appears to be stuck in some nineties-or-so issues like whether the function is strategic or not, whether management needs HRM after all, or how we have to prove our ROI. How strange it might be, I don’t think these are issues today. After all, the function is completely legitimated, and has won its strategic space within companies. Rather, I would discuss how the goals of the nineties are not only passé, but somehow part of the burden we feel. And each of them points to values we don’t need anymore, and suggest we should embrace new ones:
1. Long-term compulsion vs. short-term enaction
Nobody tells you strategic, it is what you do that proves you so. When the HR function is able to leverage human resources to improve the competitive advantage, it is strategic. However, to do so it needs to give up on the illusion that strategic means “planned”. If HR is strategic it is by virtue of its ability to ride on emergent strategies much better than any other function, even the CEO (compared to the rather dull planning related to deliberate strategies that is bottlenecking so much our HR today). It is this “enaction” (the ability to use short term actions to create the future while facing the present) that proves to be a value to all businesses. To be prepared to do so, though. requires new competencies like intuition, operation obsession, analytics, evolutionary thinking that I am part of my research in different settings.
2. Professionalism vs. service orientation
We are aware that an important part of the value delivered in managing people comes from how managers act. It is not a surprise. However, we also know that line managers are not trained to manage people in perspective. They tend to adopt quite stable strategies and follow them unless pushed to change. Moreover, notwithstanding all the investment on leadership model, they still think people are but an instrument to their goals. There is nothing inherently bad in this, and we should stop worrying, at least within business (a more profound change is needed at the societal level and in the education system within business colleges). If this is true, then we should stop talking about HR as a service function. There is no service to be delivered, since our customers don’t think they need it. What we need to embrace is the role of highly skilled professional that work for the same business as the line managers, and are in charge of making sure our human capital is not wasted. We possess a specific knowledge (or at least we could possess it if it hadn’t been wasted with the silly decoupling of the function derived by the agenda of a rather stupid and simplistic model – yes, I am talking of the infamous shared services and business partners model) and we are empowered to use it.
3. Act on our ROI vs. find the Holy Grail of the perfect measure
FInally, I am evidence based as only an academic with strong experience in analytics could be. I get mad at companies for not using in a proper way the tons of data they possess. However, I know that it is more important to use evidence to check on our assumptions than lose our minds on finding the best, possible measure for something. Any measure is biased and flawed, it is a convention. Therefore, the perfect measure is a myth. Measuring is important as a process, because it forces to state clearly how our assumptions relate to our ideas and actions, and therefore should relate to results. I don’t know if there’s the perfect measure for the HR ROI out there, and frankly I could not care less. What I care is to have HR managers think about their actions as hypotheses on the relation between cause and effect, measure what they can, and keep learning from it.
Now, hold your breath, and look back to your neighborhood. Are you embracing these new values?