Source | C. Mahalingam
Over the last few years, HR professionals have nurtured a pet obsession that has to do with figuring out whether HR is adding value, whether it has a seat at the strategy table and whether it has become strategic. This is understandable as part of the process of maturing, there is anxiety and often identity crisis. The danger, however, is not finding a fact-based, observable and, therefore, measurable answer soon enough. This is the theme of a national conference to be organised by the D.G Vaishnav College’s Department of HRM on November 2nd in Chennai.
The HR profession and professionals are in the spotlight and their contribution is being watched. This is not because they are new arrivals on the corporate playfield, but because competitive advantage for corporates today is closely tied to the human capital that HR professionals help manage.
In trying to find out whether HR is adding value and whether it is strategic in approach, a few observations are in order:
- Value is perceived by the receiver and not the giver — in this case HR! Value-add is, therefore, an outside-in perspective, rarely ever a proclamation or declaration.
- Receivers of HR value include all key stake-holders: Employees themselves, besides the organisation and investors
- The notion of strategic HR is reaching hilarious proportions. Whether in conferences or in text books, ‘strategic’ has been conveniently reduced to a pre-fix. Strategic HR, therefore, is simply construed as strategic hiring plus strategic on-boarding plus strategic learning & development plus strategic performance management plus…!
- Becoming strategic is fairly simple (though not easy) and just involves behaving strategic and not talking about it!
- Managing end-to-end HR operations encompassing the lifecycle of people from recruitment to retirement is not strategic!
- Outsourcing HR operations does not automatically mean what is left behind is strategic. Taking some routines out of HR is no more strategic than taking book-keeping away from accounting or an accountant.
Missing the flight
I am reminded of a story I read of a passenger waiting to board a plane from Los Angeles to Washington DC. He walked up to a weighing machine to check his weight, but was both impressed and perplexed by the very personalised ticket that popped out of the machine. The ticket read: “You are Mr So and So. Your weight is 100 pounds. And you are going to catch a flight to Washington DC.” Never before had tokens given any more information than one’s weight and some vague prediction for the day! Curious, he tried out one more time and came out with another card that read: “You are still Mr So and So. You still weigh the same at 100 pounds. And you are still going to catch the flight to Washington DC!” Not convinced, he decided to try one last time and inserted another coin. This time around the card read: “You are still Mr. So and So. Your weight is the same 100 pounds. And you just missed the flight to Washington!” Ring any bells, Mr HR Professional? I am afraid we are almost there if not already there!
HR professionals must recognise that they need a working definition of what value addition means and involves. Most of the time we underestimate our ability and, simultaneously, overestimate our contributions, neither of which is particularly helpful. Value addition by definition means the high end of impact as perceived by our stake-holders.
In many organisations employee engagement has become a buzz word. Value addition in employee engagement results when we strive towards creating organisational citizenship. Not easy, but who says adding value is child’s play? Again, performance improvement of individual employees by changing their behaviours and styles is a low impact starting point. Appraisal systems and measurements can get us there. But the real value-add is when HR brings about a high performance culture in the organisation.
How do leaders view people in their organisations? As personnel or as human resources or as talent? High impact is when HR delivers a talent mind-set across the organisation so people are valued as competitive advantage. When it comes to learning and development, low impact involves kaizen-type improvements; medium impact involves powerful change in attitudes and behaviours. Value addition is recognised when learning interventions deliver transformational effect on the organisation.
Extending this to HR’s own effectiveness, when we toy with new HR systems and processes, we only create low impact. When we partner effectively with business, we perhaps deliver medium impact. And when we create organisation capabilities that support executing the business strategy, our value addition becomes pronounced.
In the end, value addition is not what we think it is. Business leaders must perceive and experience the value. Making business leaders a partner and coach in helping define what constitutes low, medium and high value would be a terrific way. It pays to remember the Chinese proverb: the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; and the next best time is now! Are HR professionals listening?
C.Mahalingam is a leading HR Thought Leader in India. He was Executive Vice-President & Chief People Officer with Symphony Services Corporation and served in organisations like IBM, HP, Phillips, Scandent Technologies etc. He is now a Leadership Coach, HR Strategic Consultant and visiting faculty at some of IIM’s.