Weekly Wrap: Should HR’s Role Really Be as a Performance Advisor?

There’s an interesting new report out that gets to the heart of the question that so many people always seem to be asking — What is HR’s real role in the organization, anyway?

According to i4cp, the Institute for Corporate Productivity, it’s pretty clear, as the name of the report indicates: The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor.

The report asks:

Is there a department in the typical organization that has traditionally incurred more disdain than Human Resources? Magazine articles regularly ridicule the function, comedians routinely mock the profession and the average employee seems to have little understanding of or regard for HR’s value to the company.

While most HR professionals can brush off all of that negativity, the sad reality is – even in today’s enlightened age of recognizing the value of people to the business – too many top executives still view HR as a non-strategic cost center instead of a core, profit-contributing function. This is especially true when painful economic times demand more revenue generators – or at the very least, cost savers. In many of those executives’ opinions, HR’s knowledge about how to contribute to the bottom line or how to increase shareholder value is questionable. …

Today’s business leaders are under increasing pressure from institutional investors, financial analysts and other constituents to simultaneously be both lean and competitive. The resulting imperative for finance, IT, marketing, operations and every other business function – including HR – is a fundamental understanding of the competitive environment and how to help the organization be more successful in the market. With that crucial grasp of the market forces that impact the company, every leader must design and execute strategies that empower his or her function to help drive revenue and profitability.

No function needs to make that leap more than Human Resources.”

Moving to the role of performance advisor

And where should HR leap to, you might reasonably ask? According to the i4cp report, it is into the role of performance advisor, a role they describe like this:

Certain foundational traits underlie growth leadership. Knowledge of the business, along with financial and business acumen, already are core necessities for the successful HR professional (though many in the profession still have significant deficiencies in these areas). But the building blocks of future accomplishment are more extensive: The HR professional must be able to pair that business and finance savvy with a burning curiosity to uncover and address the obstacles threatening or impeding organizational performance.

HR professionals need to think and act as performance advisors to the business. They need the assurance and courage to probe sensitive issues, and the compassion and insight to constructively advise and support the senior executives, board members and other stakeholders who are charged with crafting and executing competitive business strategies.”

I wish I could easily break out the elements behind how to turn HR professionals into performance advisors, but that is not possible without ignoring and missing so much of the depth and detail that report authors Carol Morrison and Kevin Oakes put into their research and analysis.

I think it is safe to say, however, that The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor provides the kind of road map to sustainable change that so many human resources and talent management professionals have been out there looking for.

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A blueprint for HR’s future

Yes, it is a great blueprint for where HR should be going, and, what smart HR professionals need to do to get there.

As the report’s summary puts it:

Acting as a performance advisor to the business is the most critical component of HR’s new value proposition. Leveraging efficiency to help drive effectiveness is a necessary element, freeing HR professionals to focus on business impact. Further, educating the organization about HR’s impact on the business will help to enhance (and in many cases correct) perceptions of the function’s value.

Banishing fears that HR will put itself out of work if it helps line managers hone their talent management capabilities, the function’s future will see HR professionals become trusted advisors who empower managers to drive improved organizational performance. HR will strengthen companies’ chains of productivity by supporting line managers with the tools, training, processes and other elements they need to capably play active roles in performance management, recruitment, engagement, leadership development, learning, career development and other talent management components.”

This is the kind of clear and well-articulated vision for HR that so many talk about wanting but that few have been able to dig into. If nothing else, The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor will at least get the conversation going about what the right role for HR might be, and more importantly, what it will take to get there.

Building a self-correcting workplace culture

Of course, there’s a lot more than this thoughtful report about the future of HR in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Amazon hiring 50,000 holiday workers — Amazon.com has about 20,000 full-time workers in its 40 fulfillment centers around the U.S., and that’s why the company’s announcement that it was going to be hiring 50,000 more seasonal employees to help with the holiday rush was a little bit surprising. According to the Los Angeles Times, “with a surge of Christmas orders expected in the next few months, the hiring push is a necessary step, said Dave Clark, vice president of global customer fulfillment for Amazon. And a bonus: Many of the seasonal employees may end up joining the permanent Amazon workforce, in which many are paid 30% more than traditional retail workers, the company said.”
  • Why are so many so miserable at work?Miami Herald workplace columnist and blogger Cindy Krischer Goodman asks the question, and she points to a survey that may help with the answer:  “Our bosses are to blame. Bosses are leaving Americans feeling unappreciated, uninspired, lonely, and miserable, says the results of the study conducted by Michelle McQuaid, a consultant who offers positive psychology interventions in the workplace.”
  • When Google employees tutorSan Jose Mercury News columnist Mike Cassidy writes about how a little language tutoring of Silicon Valley janitors by Google employees has helped to build language skills AND relationships among normally disconnected people. “It’s easy to stay in this Google bubble,” says Andrew Howell, a Google project manager who’s been tutoring janitor Martin Santillan since early 2011. “Or you can really get to understand your neighbor and build a holistic community.”
  • Building a Self-Correcting Workplace Culture — I am going to be a panelist on a webcast next Wednesday, Oct. 24, from 11 to noon Eastern time titled Are We Penn State? Building a Self-Correcting Culture: An Update that is being put on by ELI, an Atlanta-based provider of award-winning learning solutions that help organizations build and maintain inclusive, productive and ethical workplaces. It’s free to attend and you can sign up here. It should be of interest to anyone in HR or talent management who is focused on the issue of building an ethical (and sustainable) workplace culture with strong organizational values. I hope you can join me for what should be a great discussion.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. 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 workforce.com, 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 johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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