The one with no comment

In recent weeks I’ve been watching the new Netflix series “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey. I say new, it’s newly produced but based on the 1990 BBC series of the same name featuring the fabulous Ian Richardson as the Conservative Chief Whip Frances Urquhart. As great an actor as Spacey is no one tops Richardson for me in this role.

Whether it be the Chief Whip as in the British version or the Congressional Whip as in the US version you see the political machinations of these individuals as they use knowledge, relationships, access to power and their individual guile to navigate the choppy waters of Westminster/Washington. Remind you of a role within organisations?

We’ll come back to that…

Last week, Josh Bersin, Principle of Bersin at Deloitte published his/their predictions for 2013. In summary the advice was:

“…Push the envelope, ignore sacred cows and implement innovative programs that create passion, alignment, and teamwork.”

He goes on to illustrate some ideas on how the HR leader could go about this:

  1. Replace the HR technology platform
  2. Implementing new systems of engagement not just systems of record
  3. Rethinking core processes e.g. annual performance appraisal
  4. Implementing 21st century leadership development
  5. Driving new levels of employee engagement

There is very little to argue with in Mr Bersin’s paper and I agree that organisations in general would be better places if more HR leaders felt comfortable (or fought their discomfort) to heed his advice but in thinking it over it also got me considering a question,

“What does the HR Director do that someone else couldn’t do?”

So the Sales Director has to deliver sales and revenue, the Marketing Director the external message, future markets and product/service development, the Finance Director ensures balance and investment, the Operations Director delivers the product or service, the IT Director provides the systems, platforms and processes for the business to operate and manages the change around them and of course the CEO brings them all together and ensures balance between day to day and longer term. What does the HR Director actually do?

If you go back to Bersin’s examples think about these as alternatives:

  1. IT Director – it’s a technology platform after all
  2. IT Director – most of them are technology platforms e.g. recruitment system
  3. Leaders in general – do they really need an annual line in the sand to manage performance?
  4. Leaders in general – do they need a team to tell them how to develop leaders?
  5. Leaders in general – it’s not for HR to drive engagement that’s a leadership accountability surely?

Give payroll to finance, let line manager’s hire their own people, hire those who have the skills and don’t need training, pay and benefits are driven by budget, systems are run from IT and as for reputational risk – what marketing doesn’t deal with legal can…

Fortunately most of this stuff wouldn’t happen without the HR function to drive it (at which point my bank manager breathes a huge sigh of relief). That said if you sit in an HR team coasting along thinking the business loves you and the business needs you then stop and ask yourself some of these questions. I know of one plc that has just gone from all singing HR/OD to bare bones personnel style function and I doubt they’ll be the last.

Every business needs the HR function. You could say that…I couldn’t possibly comment



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3 responses to “The one with no comment

  1. Rob,
    Perceptive as always and always a good read too. The Bersin 2013 agenda for HR barely demonstrates the innovation he calls for and the retreat you see from full HR / OD to Personnel is an insidious but very real existential threat. We talk about it constantly amongst ourselves and raising the bar for HR so they truly move on and innovate defines much of our work with clients. More power to your elbow.

  2. fourgroups

    Great post which get’s to the heart of HR’s ‘problem’, if you chose to see it in that light.

    What exactly does HR do that’s unique and what value does it contribute to the business, over and above the basic contractual requirements? I don’t think anyone’s successfully answered this from the point of view of the profession/the function and it feels like there’s an elephant in the room!

  3. fourgroups

    p.s. I wonder how many other HR practicioner’s share this view or can even see this perspective? That itself speaks volumes about the profession and the function…

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