As human resource manager for a medium-sized manufacturer, Beth has increased motivation, engagement and productivity across the organization over the past six years. The leadership succession bench, empty when she arrived, is now quite full of leadership candidates who excelled in the leadership development programs she created.
Despite her contributions to the company’s top and bottom lines, Beth feels ignored by the executive ranks. She knows that she has been a key contributor and believes the company needs her input on a strategic level to ensure the growth engine she has fired up keeps running smoothly.
In her bid to become part of strategic management, Beth is forging new ground. In this company as in most we encounter, there has never been a seat for human resources at the executive table. She reports to the CFO, excellent in his role but not very astute on issues related to talent acquisition, management or succession.
Beth has made a convincing case for including her in strategic management conversations. She has more than proven that she has a lot to contribute to the team. So why is she not included? Some cry sexism. The majority of human resource managers are women after all. The old school of management believed that people management required a soft touch. Back then, employees stayed for 20 years on average, not four; companies considered themselves to be in the business of making widgets not developing talent; profit per employee metrics were not competing with low-cost highly skilled Chinese labor; and employees were given instructions whereas today they operate as self-directed teams and profit centers.
Concomitantly with these changes, the profit generated per HR manager for a company has increased, possibly as much as tenfold. Without a doubt, the HR manager’s strategic importance has increased alongside her profit making role. So why, then, are the HR people not elbow-to-elbow at the table with the other strategic thinkers in your company?
Whether or not you are on the pro or con side of the divided debate over inviting the HR leader to join executive management meetings, there are clear benefits to integrating the human resource management function into strategic management. Where to start all depends on where you are today. Which of these human resource scenarios are familiar to you?
The HR Leader/Consultant – Your human resource manager oversees the development and management of programs, including leadership development, succession planning and employee training. She plays a key role in developing core competencies within your organization, and thus, should be sitting in strategic meetings with the senior management team. Leadership and employee recruitment and training needs to be closely aligned with overall corporate objectives. And like a good consultant, she needs to communicate with all levels of the organization to assess and develop HR strategy. HR strategy should be calibrated across all departments at the manager level. One of the leading problems with training programs is the failure to carry the training through to the job position. More often than not, the training stops with the training program.
HR as the Right Hand to OD – These people managers have a background in organizational development but have not been truly empowered to use it. Consultants may be brought in to help develop training, leadership and teamwork programs. The consultants serve as a go between senior management and HR. The HR team execute brilliantly and provide constructive input into the programs. If you recognize this scenario, then it is time to develop these organizational development skills in-house. Consultants come in, shake everything up and fine-tune the people function. But to ensure continuous development of the program and integration across the organization, your talented HR team should be empowered to develop and use their OD skills.
HR as Team Leader – Another version of the above scenario, senior managers act as management consultants and change agents. HR comes under the umbrella of broader change management and reengineering programs. The HR manager is, in effect, the HR team leader on the reengineering project. A downfall is that broad brush strokes are often used to change people management but the people do not actually change. The senior managers often do not have a strong competency in human resources management. HR managers should be part of the strategic reengineering meetings to ensure the changes required at the people level are made.
HR as an Isolated Silo – Does your HR department still operate as an administrative unit of the company? This HR function acts as a front and back office, processing resumes and candidates, forwarding them to departments for interviews, and then administering salaries and benefits. These departments are often seen as a necessary evil, not as a true asset. You have a lot of work to do to catch up with the modern HR department. First, assess your HR talent. The lead competency of your HR head should not be administration but talent development and organizational development. Start building an HR team with the talent to begin the process of training your future leaders from the time of the first interview through to the onboarding and continuous learning process.
Today’s HR manager is focused on increasing profit per employee by creating empowered, self-organizing employees. HR managers with this talent have, themselves, one of th e highest profits per employee. Bringing the HR manager (assuming they are up to the job) to the strategic management table is a sure way to increase the productivity of this profit center.
What role does HR play in your company? What role should they play?