What’s wrong with HR?
It is not uncommon to hear business leaders expound on the importance of talent management. But the truth is that if HR is not in the top team, then talent management is no more important than stationery management.
The reality is that HR in the top team is a rarity, particularly in organisations birthed in the industrial era. HR has evolved considerably since the industrial revolution. Today violence is no longer the primary motivation tool and child labour is frowned upon in many countries.
There is a perception that we are returning to some sort of post-covid normality. At least that is what the big people-heavy juggernauts are thinking given the general trend of getting people back to the factory in a manner that minimise employer brand damage.
There is also a perception that the digital age requires a focus on technology and people are at best an adjunct.
Both these perceptions are incorrect.
We are not so much entering the digital age as the age of disruption. Consequently uncertainty lies ahead. Businesses cannot afford to be reliant on one business model, where market sentiment coupled with disruptive new entrants could result in your high margin offering becoming the freemium element of a challenger startup’s offering.
Thus innovation, and in particular high frequency innovation, is required. Market pleasing products and services will enjoy shorter periods in the sun. Thus either your organisation increases its innovation velocity or adopts the brace position.
Algorithms and robots cannot do innovation. We need humans. But not the compliant process add-ons that are the staple of the industrial era, but people who know that their brain is their money maker and have tuned it accordingly.
This makes talent management the most important activity of the leadership team. Unfortunately, such talent management capability is rarely present in the top team. Thus critical issues such as wellness, inclusion and overall cognitive management are considered parochial matters.
For some reason, HR appears to be happy to stick with the operational aspects of talent management, even though the conditions are perfect for HR to lead the requisite organisational transformation.
The industrial era factory model treats people as cogs for the machine. As such, HR might be seen as a division of procurement. This of course dehumanises employees. Recruitment thus becomes a variant of buzzword bingo.
Perks R Us
Similarly, employee wellness, a critical aspect of talent performance, is just another app to add to the employee ‘perks store’. Or worse, it is simply a cynical exercise in employer brand management. There are forward thinking HR professionals out there, but they are often swimming against the tide, given the low executive regard given to people. At the end of the day, process work, cubicle work and purposeless work is inhuman and thus it falls to HR to entice/lever people to turn up each day and unswervingly adhere to the operations manual.
Organisations that do not have talent management expertise in their top team are unlikely to attract the best talent. Given the importance of innovation in retaining the attention of increasingly fickle buyers, the organisation will be left with only the worst clients. Darwinism takes it from there.
I believe there is a role for HR in driving the changes necessary to help both the organisation and its people thrive. This requires HR to be part of the leadership team and ideally the leader in respect of the journey ahead.
No doubt many HR directors recognised this and had set their sights on the c-suite. But, perhaps ironically, a lack of people skills has either made this a non-starter or a transient experience. The closer you get to the top the higher the stakes. So as Dr Ali Qassim Jawad and Dr Andrew Kakabadse wrote in their book, The 5 Qs, political intelligence (PQ) is a critical trait for today’s leaders.
Cognitive gym director
Staying in the c-suite requires members to speak the appropriate language. Generally speaking, if you utter a sentence that does not include one or more of the terms; profile, loss, balance sheet, asset, government, risk or prison, you will not capture the CEO’s attention. I believe that we need to dust down the notion of human capital, with a specific focus on cognitive capital as an asset class. An asset that managed well will have a very positive impact on the balance sheet. CEO rapture is a sight to behold.
Helping the leaders to see themselves as cognitive coaches and the workforce as cognitive athletes will help create an atmosphere of trust. Given the importance of workplace design as we return to the fortress, there is a role for HR in transforming the lifeless battery farm layout to one more akin to a cognitive gymnasium.
Everyone wins with this approach. HR, your time has come.