Strategic HR is a mindset and a philosophy. But it also requires action. I spoke with several HR leaders to get their advice on how to move HR departments in a strategic direction. Here are 3 powerful recommendations.
1. Ditch the “Seat at the Table” Conversation
One of the most notorious complaints is that HR doesn’t get a seat at the table. This is exactly the wrong lament, says Lisa Delisle Flynn, Vice-President of HR at Welch’s:
“It drives me totally insane when I hear HR people talk about not having a seat at the table. If they don’t have a seat, it’s because they don’t deserve a seat at the table. No organization’s leader puts up her hand and says “Stop! We don’t want your help and expertise.” If you know and understand the business and you are providing value, you’re there. If not, it’s your own fault.”
In other words, we need to take responsibility and initiative. It’s not about those baddies in the C-suite shutting out HR. Instead, HR professionals who aren’t “at the table” don’t have the relationships or business knowledge they need to be successful. How to fill these gaps? Flynn has good advice:
“Take a cross-functional assignment in the business. Get out [of HR], do a few years in the business, and then go back. You’ll be much more valuable. If you’re not at the place in your career where you can do that, spend time with your CFO to understand the financials. Spend time with the business leaders. Get out there.”
HR too often plays the role of caretaker in the organization. Andy Porter, Vice-President of HR at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals and blogger at Fistful of Talent, has something to say about that:
“HR groups fall into the trap of being the people who solve all problems. People come to me and say “This is going on with this person. Now it’s your problem.” My answer is: “What do you want me to do? You’re a grown man.” I’ll help people think through how to have the conversation. I’ll even sit with them while they do it. But my job isn’t to be the principal.
Instead, HR needs to treat employees like the adults they are. That means letting go of familiar, paternalistic HR time wasters. At Merrimack, they’ve thrown out dress codes and vacation policies. Instead, their handbook consists of one line: We do what we believe to be best for our business and our employee community.”
Shift from Risk Mitigation to Organization Development
HR professionals have been well trained in risk mitigation. HR departments sponsor lengthy, rigorous performance review processes designed to protect the organization in case an employee sues after being fired. Managers are compelled to follow affirmative action guidelines for fear of lawsuits, not because they genuinely value diversity. All three of the HR leaders I spoke with agreed: don’t sacrifice organization development in favor of risk mitigation.
Leon Ginsburg, CEO of Sphere Consulting and Founder of Better Feedback, says, “It’s important to have the company culture defined and pay attention to how it develops. Once onboard, it’s important to make sure you have the culture and values that people believe in.” That’s the real work of HR: developing an environment in which people can be successful.
Practically, developing that environment means different things for different organizations. Welch’s has shifted the focus of its performance reviews from past performance to future goals. Merrimack Pharmaceuticals has eliminated performance reviews together. The important thing is to find the specific techniques and systems that help your specific organization best the best it can be.
What do you think HR departments should stop doing in order to bring strategy HR to their organization?
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Maya Townsend went from hiding in the corner at networking events to leading a company (Partnering Resources) that helps individuals, teams, and organizations thrive in our networked world. Using the science underlying human relationships and networks, she uncovers sound, practical methods for making soft skills generate hard results. Co-editor of The Handbook for Strategic HR, she'll happily tell you why you should throw out your performance reviews and why most HR departments need a total makeover.