3 Ways HR Execs Can Help Their Organizations Grow

The following are actual snippets of phone calls with senior executives in human resources departments in the days following the post of my recent article 3 Reasons CEOs Should Lose Sleep Over The State Of Their Human Resources Departments.

Call #1:

“Glenn, I never thought about human resources as a growth strategy.”

How did you think about it?

“That if we met our compliance objectives that growth would happen organically elsewhere in the business.”

Call #2:

“Glenn, human resources isn’t something that needs to connect to outcomes in the marketplace. We shouldn’t be accountable to the bottom line. Our business unit leaders are accountable for that”

Why do you think that?

“Because HR is not expected to influence growth outcomes in the marketplace. We are not always included in those conversations because that’s not what is expected from us.”

Call #3

“Glenn, human resources is not a strategic function in our company.”

Is any other department connected to every other department and all the human capital in your company?

“Well, no. But that’s not its point.”

I could go on. I won’t, because I think the point is clear: My article exacerbated a deep disconnect between how HR is perceived by many organizations and the often-untapped potential it offers them in a business climate that is fueled with change and transformation.

Simply put, most leaders understand the basic function of HR, but they don’t see the bigger opportunities to help them be more inclusive in the workplace to impact marketplace growth. Despite the fact that HR is the spine of most organizations – connected to every part of their “bodies” and essential to keeping things standing and moving forward – they do little to improve its health. They even remove pieces of it and outsource it. Since they have historically viewed the role of HR as compliance, they don’t think anything more of it.

It’s neither human nor a resource to many of them.

But to get caught up on questions of outsourcing misses the point. No matter how lean an HR department becomes, it still connects to all the talent in an organization and every business unit and/or functional department leader. In a traditional workplace, those departments are so silo-ed, they rarely communicate nor evolve fast enough to keep up with the rapidly changing workplace and marketplace demands. This has direct implications for a business looking to recreate growth not just manage the growth they have.

When leaders want action now and the implications of that action affects the entire organization, why don’t they think of HR? Why is HR not in the center of corporate growth and transformation and playing a greater role in the company’s goals – not from a compliance standpoint but from a growth standpoint? HR has certainly evolved to be about more than personnel management in many companies, but everything from talent acquisition to maximizing existing talent potential to inclusive leadership still remains elusive.

Part of that is on HR and the way it stays wedded to the templates of the past, requiring steps, documentation, and details just like it must when it comes to the traditional role of compliance, such as cases of discrimination or harassment. HR can’t follow those templates if called on to influence growth outcomes. Leaders who do that need a growth mindset and a sense of urgency to do that. You need agility and to be more of a business consultant to the organization as you proactively touch all parts of it every day. That’s how HR can gain influence in an organization and talk about growth in the workplace as it connects to growth in the marketplace and thus the bottom line.

Part of it is on organizations and their leaders placing HR on the fringe and not seeing it as a business resource. But they should be. HR is uniquely positioned not only to see how people in those organizations are doing from performance and engagement scores but also to understand how talent can influence the future of the business if they are allowed to move outside the box they are given. HR should know who can plug into the roles that will help lead an organization’s transformation.

Any HR person can see the opportunity to attract and retain talent but the next step is to help a business leader do that and influence the direction of the company and understand what this means. To do this, HR must turn the spotlight of accountability on itself and develop the core competencies and skills needed to gain influence beyond compliance.

To help me understand what these competencies are, I turned to Monica Pool Knox, Head of Global Talent Optimization at Microsoft. Monica leads efforts at Microsoft to “design and drive transformative, global talent solutions that optimize how the company identifies future capabilities, employees build career experiences and internal talent is deployed to do leading edge work.” She broke them down into three areas: data interpretation, talent optimization, and personal evolution (not just how it helps people comply with it).

1. Data Interpretation

In today’s business, we can no longer interpret growth through numbers alone: data tells a story and people tell a story. I previously discussed how Mark Cuban believes the skill most in demand will be “creative thinking.” According to Monica, this is no less true for people in HR: “Read, interpret and tell a story through data. This means the ability to identify the key data points from P&Ls and understand what this data says about the business; the ability to glean insights from people data and predict future outcomes with it; and the ability to tell a story and create a vision through data. By learning how to master the use of data, talent leaders can be major influencers in their organizations.”

2. Talent Optimization

I have said it countless times: Today’s leaders must break free from the idea that the business defines the individual (forced assimilation to the company, stripping people of their identities) and instead allow the individual to define the business (and find like-mindedness in our differences). Monica sees this through the lens of HR as well: “See the opportunity to attract and retain talent not through a monolithic lens but through a lens that sees a collection of people shaped by their unique experiences.”

With multi-ethic and racial, multi-generational, and multi-everything people in your business – not to mention globally in the workplace and marketplace – we need to think inclusively and about the individuals around us. As Monica says: “This is not our future reality – this is our reality today. Talent leaders will have to be dialed in to how employee values and perspectives differ. What motivates one person will not motivate the other. It’s our responsibility as talent leaders to lean in to make sure we understand the varied dimensions of our employees and with that insight, provide the right kind of leadership within the organization.”

3. Personal Evolution

“Deliver with a focus on marketing: As particular as business leaders are about implementing a new product or service in the market, HR professionals should be just as particular about internal talent solution rollouts and adoption,” Monica says. “Talent solutions can be tools, processes or concepts. It goes back to storytelling. How do we influence the organization to adopt a talent solution through a clear, thoughtful and compelling campaign where the value proposition is clear?”

Monica is on point with what she says: Thinking about how you can influence a conversation is one thing, knowing the way you have done things and present them may undermine that influence is another. Considering the dynamic nature of business today, HR leaders will be well served to stay both agile in how they work and highly skilled in their capability. In other words, change and transformation starts with you: “The way HR has always done it may not make sense in the future,” adds Monica. “Talent leaders will be well served to stay on top of external industry trends and use that insight to evolve traditional ways of thinking and working. Unless it’s the timeless values of treating people with respect and assuming positive intent, performing a practice for the same way for 15 years might be one to consider evolving.”

Talent and HR executives like Monica are exceptional in the way they see these things but there are many more like her – who don’t yet – but are hungry for more. They have untapped potential to help organizations lead in these three areas for the future. If they commit to developing these core competencies, will leaders give them that proverbial seat at the table? They must. Will they be able to assert themselves in conversations about growth from the center of the organization, not the fringe? They must.

HR can be the team that breaks down the silos and help everyone see opportunity in everything and anticipate what is to come. They can lead with a true innovation mentality.


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