Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Basis of Highly Effective HR Work – The 3 (Not So Obvious) C’s

As more and more corporate HR functions and their stewards leave behind that vague and vexing notion of “deserving a seat at the table” and tangibly demonstrate why and how strategic HR work is vital, it’s perhaps useful to examine three key underpinnings of highly effective HR work.  Let’s call these the “3 C’s” -- and for the purposes of this post, we’ll set aside the referencing of more obvious “C” topics like key Competencies or promoting a culture of Collaboration.   

 For some context, let’s look at the Technology sector for a moment.  If we think about the HR professionals who were critical to successfully integrating dozens of acquisitions at Cisco and Microsoft in the 90’s … or those at Google in more recent years … or those at IBM who have architected that company’s internal social networking juggernaut (a key to business transformation there) … or current HR leadership at HP achieving fairly low turnover among key employees during a major corporate turnaround (highly unusual), these “3 C’s” are likely part of the mix in all these success stories:
  • Connecting cross-functional business indicators / analytics
  • Calibrating and re-calibrating (people) strategies / tactics as needed
  • Executing “best fit” Change Management
Regarding the first of the 3 C’s, one could easily defend the position that people / talent management within organizations is a core element of nearly every significant business problem - or business solution.  Problems such as customer retention and satisfaction issues, or product/service quality issues, or declining sales or profits, or inability to sustain innovation can all be intuitively tied to people issues.  That said, going from intuitively tying these problems to human capital management (“HCM”) issues or factors, to systematically and empirically linking them – and then developing and implementing targeted HCM programs to remediate the situation, clearly influences which companies can successfully execute transformational or turnaround initiatives. 

An HR function that is effective at connecting cross-functional indicators can determine, for example, that – accompanying a decline in profits, productivity is also trending downward, AND it is tied to a poorly conceived (or communicated) change in Benefits or Comp Plans. There might also be a tie-in with a recent scaling-back on specific employee development programs.  Broadening this analysis to include a time-to-productivity (“TTP”) metric might result in determining TTP is trending unfavorable largely due to incenting early retirements.  What’s the connection?  This business decision might have resulted in losing many mentors around the organization who helped keep time-to-productivity for inexperienced new hires within acceptable ranges.

The second “C” – the ability and willingness to calibrate and re-calibrate (people) strategies / tactics based on evolving insights or events – is certainly another foundational plank in highly effective HR work.  We operate in very fast, very fluid times, with many organizations undertaking a major restructuring every 2-3 years – often in response to volatile markets, new competitive threats, or perceived new opportunities (e.g., involving globalization or technology-related factors).  These changes are often occurring while also dealing with demographic shifts within the organization and the talent management implications of those shifts.  A highly unpredictable operating environment demands that HR professionals and departments almost continually validate (and if necessary, re-calibrate) people strategies and tactics to ensure they reflect what is going on within and outside the organization.

Finally, the ability to leverage “best-fit” change management practices and formal programs before, during and after any major organizational change occurs -- whether the program is developed internally or through a trusted partnership -- is undoubtedly another hallmark of a highly effective HR function.  Countless industry studies have highlighted the fact that inadequate attention to change management (including change readiness up-front and change sustainability at the backend) usually results in major / complex corporate initiatives being compromised, or outright failing.  These can range from expensive IT initiatives, to rolling out a new product line, to transitioning to an outsourcing-based service delivery model.  

The change management arena is also perhaps the #1 place where HR professionals and leaders get to be strategic consultants and advisors.  Case-in-point is the HR executive wanting to change the mindset (and culture) of certain strategic business units in regards to spending money on training and development.  When the business unit leader asks … “what happens if we invest in training and then the people leave?” … the astute HR professional (and change consultant) responds with … “what happens if we don’t invest in training and then they stay?”

Steve Goldberg
April 2013