You have to ensure that you get people who will succeed in your environment or you have to change the environment
HR needs to have the tough conversations. It is not about being nice, it is about doing the right things well and at the right time
In my last month’s column (‘Can HR be an entrepreneurship venture?’), I wrote about how if our companies had a choice between engaging us and an outside agency, we as HR teams can start thinking as entrepreneurs. I had raised questions around who are our customers, what business problems are we solving (why does HR exist?) and how much are our customers willing to pay for our services? For those of you who have not read part 1 and want to read the article in entirety, it is available online at People Matters.
Looking at the online, offline and sideline responses to that column, I am very happy I planned it as a three-part series rather than a standalone column. Many of you were really intrigued with the question, “Why does HR exist ?” By far the toughest question. I had laid out some options but did not answer the question.
Let us start with what I heard on twitter in response to this question:
- @npandit: “Perhaps to make organizations survivable and thrivable(sic) for humans”
- @meher_taj: “Because people matter more than anything and to safeguard and enrich the soul of the organization”
- @sundertrg: “To enable team formations that can win in the marketplace”
- @salilraheja: “To lubricate the organization’s machinery and keep it running”
Thank you to them and others who took time to respond to my question. “WHY” questions have a tendency to get existential and I am glad my twitter contributors did not give in to that but stayed in the real world. After weeks of talking, scribbling, agonizing and tearing non-existent hair, I believe I have the answer to the WHY question.
We exist for the employees of the organization – their well-being, their success and their benefit. There are enough people to take care of customers, revenue and profitability but there is no one or function that focuses only on the people.
Though I present this without fanfare and abruptly it was amazing how simple getting the answer was when I asked myself the question, “what or who is the most important link in the chain to profitability, revenue and customer delight?” The resounding answer is “it is our people”, especially in this day and age, they are the lynch pin. I would write the “Why” of HR teams as below: We exist for the People of the Organization.
Sounds corny right? But so does Do No Evil and Ding in the Universe, and they are popular why statements by very successful organizations.
Does this mean we shift to the left and start addressing everyone as comrades? Absolutely not! Instead, we should start thinking of what we can do to make our people successful and happy! Let me demonstrate this by looking at our day to day HR processes in this new paradigm of we exist for the people.
Recruitment: In the new paradigm you have to ensure that you only get the right people who will succeed in your environment or you have to change your environment to ensure the people you bring in succeed too. It is not just about filling those requisitions and staying under the cost per hire targets it is also about the new employees’ success.
Performance Management: Is this about getting a perfect bell curve, managing salary increase budgets and a check in the box or is it about enabling success? In the new paradigm you will focus more on the quality of goals set, the conversations, and the capability of appraisers to deliver the tough message. As a matter of fact, you will ensure the tough messages are given early enough and not too late! See, it is not about being nice, it is about doing the right things well and at the right time. Tough conversations are one of them.
Exits/Terminations: It is inevitable that people will quit or need to be fired. Today this is a stressful process for everyone concerned. Many a times, HR teams are more worried about being sued than how to protect the employee. Yes, lawsuits are very expensive, they damage reputations and we must ensure we don’t expose our company. In the new paradigm, we are not just protecting the company; we are also protecting the livelihoods of the folks who still work for the company. But it doesn’t have to be an “or” item it can be legally right, and right by the employee too! Remember, they are the reason you exist – protect the existing by being legally compliant and protect the ones leaving by being fair, transparent and considerate.
Culture: Is culture only about engagement to enhance productivity and retention or is it about employee success? I don’t know if one is linked to the other but a culture should be about people. Does the culture make your people successful, happy or does it only push them towards goals of customer delight and profitability?
I can extend this to incentives, leave etc … almost everything we do. It is a very tough discussion and I doubt any CEO, Board is going to willingly support you on this. They still have their targets to deliver, bonuses to make and wealth to create – you are out on your own. You can’t alienate them (CEO, Board etc..) but you can’t toe their line too. You have to walk the fine line between being an activist and a facilitator. Are we as HR professionals ready and up to taking the idea of existing for employees mainstream against management will?
I foresee the conflict between business and people to only increase with technology disruptions. Llike a popular financial daily screamed in its headline – Jobs will be squeezed out in the conveyor belt of technology. When that happens can we be the voice that protects humanity?
What say? I would love to hear from you.