When I transitioned into an HR career 25 years ago, I didn’t realize what a “compelling resource” HR professionals can be to an organization. I didn’t stop to think that as an HR professional I should be behaving in a way that provokes others to think, stimulate change, challenge the status quo and deliver results. But that is exactly what HR professionals should be doing.
In his article titled “Insight-led HR” for the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development in the UK (April 2011), Lee Sears describes the critical requirement for HR professionals to have “Organizational Insight” (business, organizational and contextual savvy). Being professionally trained to deliver first-class HR solutions is almost a given, but where value is really added, is in the role of a “provocative pioneer” as we engage with the business in which we work. Asking questions and proposing solutions that add clear value, is where HR professionals are judged as an asset and not a cost.
HR professionals should always be able to complete the sentence, “my personal value as an HR professional is …” The completion of this sentence should be quantitative and explicit – never something like, “to support managers and help people manage their careers”. Much rather something like, “to recruit key talent that builds organisational capability, directly impacting business results in a positive way and increasing shareholder value”. HR is sometimes referred to as a “support function” or a “corporate function”. That’s ok, as long as we earn a reputation for being a “critical function” through our value, professionalism and judgement.
As HR professionals, we can be a compelling resource to our colleagues as we embrace the four elements desired of leaders as described by Goffee & Jones in their book, “Why should anyone be led by you?” (2006), i.e. authenticity, significance, excitement and community. People should find us exemplars and champions of these virtues! It’s great when your team members give you feedback that they are inspired by you, challenged by you and get a real kick out of being in your team. It’s sobering to ask the question, “Why should anyone be led by me?” I once asked individual members of a Board of Directors to answer this question for themselves and I heard bland answers expressed in the third person, none personal – great for a team response, but it would have been even more powerful to have heard individual responses recognizing their own personal impact!
I recently worked with an organization whose CEO said this, “it is only by raising the bar of our personal capability as well as developing our teams to deliver stretch goals that we will be able to deliver the ambitious targets we set ourselves ….”. I used this as my banner and focus for developing leaders in that organization. The phrases / words that jumped out at me are; “raising the bar”, “deliver” and “ambitious targets” – they are compelling, active and focused. Maybe in my early HR days I would have focused my role around the words “capability”, “teams” and “ourselves”. I know these are important as well, but business priorities should drive HR behaviour, not our pet HR projects.
One could argue that “how HR is seen” is a matter of perception and that others always see HR in a certain way. Berelson and Steiner, in their book Human Behaviour (1964), define perception as, “…the complex process by which people select and organize sensory stimulation into a meaningful and rational picture of the world”. My observation of the HR community, is that perception and reputation are often created with due cause. If HR is seen as a compelling partner in day-to-day decisions as well as in strategic leadership, then we really are achieving something. It’s our job to earn a reputation and create a perception based on the quality of our contribution, the weight of our arguments and the professionalism of our delivery.
HR professionals can be, and should be a “compelling resource” for every organization. We will be just that, if we lead ourselves and our profession in the way described by Warren Bennis (1994), “The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision. The leader has a clear idea of what he/she wants to do – professionally and personally – and the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, even failures.”