While building HR capability, there are some factors core to the function that must be preserved, and there are others that can be modified to “stimulate progress” in a changing context
In their seminal book, Built to Last, Collins & Porras contend that successful resilient organizations must foster some enduring practices that reinforce their identity while being open to new approaches in going to market or responding to advances in technology. The authors’ Yin of Continuity and Yang of Change is an apt metaphor for “Building HR Capability.” There are some factors core to the function — these must be preserved for all times to come — and there are others that can be modified to “stimulate progress” in a changing context.
Let’s start with the enduring core:
(1) Understanding the Business, and (2) Becoming a Trusted Advisor. Business leaders have always expected these capabilities from good HR professionals. They require us to have our ear to the ground to access the latest business information, be it through books and e-zines, or through the network of leaders in and outside the organization who can enhance our ability to make sense of our changing world. They require us to constantly maintain an inquiring mind, while having the courage to advocate our point of view; in Stephen Covey’s language, “seeking first to understand and then, to be understood”. Business acumen gives credibility to get an invitation to the decision-making table, active listening skills, and an attitude of openness will build the rapport of the trusted advisor, thereby earning that seat for a sustained period.
Business leaders have always expected HR professionals to have their ear to the ground to access the latest business information and to constantly maintain an inquiring mind
Our current context has also spawned some new HR capabilities in which we must invest time and effort. The first of these “yangs” is (3) Understanding Analytics. With the explosion of data in today’s world, the ability to convert data into information has become more important than ever. Predictive people analytics, cognitive data-mining off social media platforms, newer pulse points to measure employee engagement — it’s hard to keep up with the range of new data-points that can be analyzed, deconstructed, interpreted, and demystified. At best, we can develop some familiarity with them. More important for the successful HR professional is to get the data science fundamentals clear. We must have the ability to work with data sufficiently to discern when facts are being manipulated to conform to a point of view. Disraeli’s quote, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics!” comes to mind. Understanding analytics requires business acumen, technological know-how, and comfort with numbers; and to that must be added courage to ask the difficult, often uncomfortable, questions that keep us faithful to the data.
The fourth HR capability is one that we must shed and unlearn, rather than adopt. HR practitioners must shed the (4) patronizing attitude. For years, an invisible power play has existed between the HR and the employees they serve. At its extreme, it is an attitude of an omniscient HR queen bequeathing the new employee pawn the opportunity to get on the chessboard and take a step forward. If you follow HR rules you will be hired (and how lucky you are to be hired by our great company) and maybe, you will even get a promotion! This is exaggerated but a smell of that attitude still lingers in the approach HR professionals sometimes take not only with employees but also, with their business leaders. If we still harbor mistaken notions about our superiority; if we demonstrate any form of condescension toward our business clients, then all our other HR capabilities are for naught. Shed patronizing and replace it with an attitude of engagement and openness, genuine exploration to aid our staff to solve the problems of our day in a respectful and inclusive environment.
And so we have it – the Yin and Yang of Building HR Capability in our professionals today. I am willing to bet that if you improve in these four areas, then you are guaranteed success as an HR professional!