“What Can HR Learn From… ?” Here’s What You’ll Get When You See That

As I prepare for my day, I tag articles that I will methodically printout, link on Delicious, or just read online.

I do a quick scan of all “my relevant blogs” to get a since of what is being talked about. This has become a time-consuming habit, but it’s a habit I enjoy.

However, there is one common theme that had me scratching my head, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized there is a proliferation of these type of articles. Come to think about it I have written a few.

The common theme is this: “What can HR learn from … ?” Google it and you will get more than 622,000,000 responses.

The HR learning model

The learning model is vast and varied: What can HR learn from?

Those, my friends, are just a few that I picked out. All you need to do is think of the scenario and there is an article about what HR will learn from it.

I am not a critic because I love to read insight from others and their moments of enlightment.  And as I mentioned, even I myself have written a few blogs posts about things that I thought were relevant to HR in our ongoing pursuit of excellence.

However, it appears that the HR professionals for all the business disciplines in the organization need to walk around with pencil and pad (keep the reading glasses handy, too!) because no matter what it is you encounter, there is a message somewhere in there for HR. We could get so wrapped up that as soon as we walk out of the house on the way to work (or to play) we encounter situations where there is a learning moment.

It’s like there is this big conspiracy happening around the organization and we keep getting these clues. If we take all these lessons and take them to heart, just what are we in HR to do? If we read and catalogued each one of these articles, would we be further along with our talent management strategy, employee engagement processes, onboarding, or whatever?

The organization learning model

But I will call it even when I see the other dictates of the organization taken to task, when I start seeing articles and blog posts that ask:

  • What can Finance learn from … ?
  • What can Marketing learn from … ?
  • What can Purchasing learn from … ?
  • What can IT learn from … ?

If you were to Google these titles, you generally would not find the same amount of dedicated articles as you do for HR.

HR leads the charge

HR carries a special place inside the organization. The intersection of people within the organization is Ground Zero. That is where our activity is based. That is where business strategy meets up with human capital strategy — and it is now understood that human capital strategy is a key driver for business success.

I want to think that since we cover that hallowed space in HR, that yes, we are on the front lines leading the charge. We will become the organization’s coach, and that the people strategy we design will be intertwined within the organizational strategy that drives the business ahead.

Organization and change management

Organizations, especially in the pre-recession period, often overlooked this critical factor in their organizational strategy..

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When we look at the Zappos’ or Google’s of the world, we see that these are all relatively new companies. In designing their organizations, they designed an org structure around the people they had and their belief in their mission and values. They were building from the ground up.

For older organizations, the human capital strategy has to be built around the organization that is already in place. The capabilities and competencies, in a lot of cases, are already there. And like it is dealing with a house, remodeling is always harder than building from the ground up.

Google started out as a pure Internet search company, but as we all know it is gradually transforming itself into another kind of company. Years from now, it will have transformed itself into another company still.

This seismic shift is happening to many, many companies today.

Reinvention in the digital age is a must. My most recent background was in the publishing industry, and it has been decimated because of the digital age. Retail companies are posting their entire catalogues online. The industry changes are being documented all over the landscape.

The flexibility of strategy and human capital

Strategy today must take into account not only the business, but the human capital ingredient as well. There must be a people or human capital strategy that dovetails nicely with where the organization is headed.

HR must look into the future and design workplace strategies that select, deploy, motivate, engage, develop, and partner with their organizations. This will take a lot more than simply changing titles to business partner or talent manager.

The desired end-game and the road map to get there must have the flexibility to adjust as the marketplace changes.

So next time you see an article titled “What can HR learn from … ?” just know that these are articles with ideas that we in HR brainstorm amongst ourselves to sharpen our focus. These are exercises in thought that are prepared to get us in shape for the new approach to our field.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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