HR's role in business transformation - Putting the human back in to HR

I spent some time a couple of weeks ago at an HR industry event, talking with and listening to people with a breadth of experience across a wide range of organisations. Much of the conversation seemed focused on getting better at delivering the transactional side of HR - recruiting (or "talent management" as the current euphemism goes), performance management and then a stack of aspirational stuff like the world of HR Data Analytics.

The thing that I found surprising about all of this (possibly naively) was how little conversation there was about people. It's almost as if the H of HR is being phased out.

Now I'm a long way away from the view of HR as a discipline being soft and woolly - even if that might be a perception still held by many. But it does strike me that there is a big opportunity for organisations that is currently going begging because it falls between support silos.

I was chatting with the IT Operations Director of a big multinational yesterday, and we were talking about the issues of getting greater impact through improving teamworking and collaboration within organisations. His and his team's role he saw as delivering the technology. But the hard work of getting that technology to be adopted and actually delivering positive business outcomes wasn't something that his "geeks" could offer.

"What about HR?" I asked. Well, no. Not there either.

It was something that was a known issue, but bounced around at board level like a hot potato. Operation units were busy delivering to task. Support groups focused on their own operational efficiency. There was a gap around business transformation that wasn't being filled. Reading between the lines it also felt that maybe it was regarded as a poisoned chalice, where plaudits for aspirational senior leaders would be much easier to gain by delivering "stuff" rather than business and behavioural change.

My own take is that, as the commoditisation of that supporting "stuff" becomes more and more common through the channels that the cloud now offers, support groups that double-down on providing operational excellence are doomed to fail. If you have competition, you need to find unique differentiators to compete. Trying to be more operationally effective and efficient than service providers who specialise isn't a competitive strategy.

So why not now look to try to make links between those groups that provide supporting functions, to work together to provide platforms for working? Why do we still see a need to separate IT from Finance from HR from Facilities from Legal? Ultimately we are all just trying to provide a working platform upon which our organisations can do what they need to do.


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