HR Must Chart a New Course or Go the Way of the Dodo

7 Steps to Avoid Extinction and Achieve Lasting Value and Relevance

6 April 2015


Painting of the Dodo by Roelandt Savery image via the Natural History Museum, UK

Painting of the Dodo by Roelandt Savery image via the Natural History Museum, UK

HR is in Trouble: Stormy Waters Ahead

If the reports are to be believed the HR function is in serious trouble. The Society of Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) recent “Study: New Work World Requires HR Overhaul” and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)’s “Top tips to make the move from operational HR to a strategic role” are just two examples of the many articles, blog posts and studies reporting that the HR function is just not cutting it in today’s post-industrial world.

Depressing stuff!  They paint a bleak picture of a tribe of left-behinds, hapless and adrift in a changing world; stuck in obstinate repetition of low value transactional tasks. In the face of change which is revolutionising our understanding of the employee relationship with businesses, HR is struggling to adapt to this new reality.

By failing to leverage the HR’s considerable strengths and take a lead role in helping businesses seize new opportunities, is HR doddering towards extinction?

Set a New Course for Value and Relevance NOW!

Don’t believe the hype. It’s not game over for HR – not by a long shot.  But talk without decisive and purpose-filled action is a sure way to continue the decline.

I present 7 steps to prevent the HR function suffering the fate of the Dodo.  Now these may ruffle some feathers but that’s OK.

I write with The Marmite Principle in mind – distinctive in taste/point of view on the topic.  The aim is to kick-start meaningful dialogue with a healthy respect for different opinions to create lasting value and relevance for HR. 

1. STOP talking solely about the transactional activities performed by HR – leading or doing the hiring, training, performance management of employees. It is acknowledged that HR is the ‘expert’ of this commodity. Whilst important, it is not considered of high impact or value by business leaders. It is now time to elevate the discussion and transcend beyond focussing mainly on the low-hanging fruit of transactional activities.

2. Behave like a Brand: The most successful brands in the world don’t behave like commodities and neither should you.” Bernadette Jiwa.  She shows us how and gives us 20 keys to a great brand story in her book,the fortune cookie principle”. Find your keys!

3. Get Obsessed with Brand Details: Whether you are the author of an internal newsletter, recruitment marketing material or policies & procedures; we are obligated and accountable to create compelling content that powers the business. Don’t outsource this responsibility to our colleagues in Marketing and Communications; instead collaborate with them. HR has the privilege of sharing the organisation’s brand space with Marketing and Communications. However, HR is responsible for telling stories that connect, inspire, motivate, and effect change – crafted for the employee audience. Hone your craft!

WORDS: If your writing skills need an uplift, Ann Handley’s book “Everybody Writes” is a practical how-to guide to writing great and meaningful content.

COLOURS and IMAGES: Make sure all print and digital material from HR has the right brand look and feel.  Tired, blah material devoid of company brand colours or containing outdated icons must be banished.  Documents written in HR-speak and employment legalese must be overhauled.  To be understood we must speak the correct language.  Ensure all HR material reflects the brand tone of voice and support the organisation’s purpose in straightforward honest language.  Aquarius’ FREE new Role Profile can help you get started.

4.  Know your Customer: HR serves 1 customer. The employees! As ‘HR Marketers’, we have the market intelligence. We must use our intimate knowledge of the motivations and aspirations of future and existing employees to create novel ways to attract, develop and engage employees in work that matters and makes a difference. Deploy Creative HR to achieve a positive impact on the organisation as a whole. Our efforts must be focussed on ensuring that their work adds value to the business and has meaning to our employees. Net benefit: HR’s Value and Relevance Perception Rating starts to rise within the organisation.

5. The Architect: HR is the architect of the employee value proposition(EVP). We are the alpha and omega of employment experience. From the first connection via recruitment marketing efforts to the last contact at the end of the employment relationship, we build a tribe of motivated employees who share an affinity with the organisation’s values. We find ways to embed the organisation’s brand values into the way employees produce results and interact with customers, community and each other. To reinforce brand values, we must build structures to encourage and reward on-brand behaviour and the achievement of results.

6.  The Moral Compass: “The silence of the Box-Ticking herbivores.” This quote accompanies the cartoon in Patrick Hosking’s article “More of the same is no answer” writing in The Times UK edition (20 January 2014). It was exposing the ineffectiveness of Compliance Officers in the most recent scandals rocking the international Financial Services sector. My stomach felt queasy when I read it as I felt it could easily be HR in the frame. Perhaps HR was not silent. Maybe, it was just that the leadership-sanctioned willingness to take huge risks to earn eye-watering sums of money trumped ethics and good sense. Q: Where was HR then? A: We need to be present NOW.

HR is the guardian of the organisation’s brand values and work culture. As HR leaders, we are obligated to defend the organisation from the infection of behaviours and values which do not serve the customers (employees) and by extension the business. Not an easy path but as the saying goes, “Nothing good comes easy.”

7. Define Your Purpose: It is time to reframe the HR story with value and relevance as our sacred quest. If we don’t do it, someone else will write HR’s story, and we may not like what we read.

HR’s purpose is…to be written by HR!

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