How HR Can Transform a Business

Editor’s Note: Dr. John Sullivan has been a provocateur and strategist in the field of human resources and talent management for over 30 years. His specialty is HR strategy and designing world class HR systems and tools for Fortune 200 firms, and he’s never been shy about telling it like it is.

That’s why TLNT asked him to share his thinking in a video series titled “$#*!@ Dr. John Sullivan Says!” Look for these videos twice a week here at TLNT.

Today’s topic: HR transforming a business

Dr. John asks this question: How do you go about increasing the credibility or power of a person or a function in the workplace? The normal approach, he says, is to not just do something, but to turn around a business.

When HR is trying to get recognition through that coveted “seat at the table,” maybe the way they need to actually get more recognition as a business person is by offering to transform a business. This means taking a business unit that is floundering and then offering to use people management tools to turn it around.

This won’t be easy, he notes, because many in the organization will be cynical that HR doesn’t know anything about business, but that to get past this, HR must offer specific targets and goals (increasing sales, for example) that they will meet and accomplish through the turnaround.

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He also lists these steps that  HR can follow to do this, including:

  • Best practice sharing;
  • Identify and fix the bad managers (The biggest problem in just about any organization, he says. Dr. John estimates that perhaps 80 percent of managers are “not very good”);
  • Identify barriers to productivity;
  • Distributing ranked metrics with everyone (the fastest thing you can do to change managers, he says);
  • Reward business results — and people management (maybe hire the best sales person from a competitor for fast results);
  • Conduct risk analysis;
  • Conduct failure analysis.

Offering to transform a business takes a lot of courage, Dr, John says, but HR can do it by walking in and saying that, “just by changing the people, this will make the difference.”

Did you miss the last segment of$#*!@ Dr. John Sullivan Says!” on “What is the Long-Term Future of HR?” You can see it here.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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