We wrote a State of the Union of Human Resources. Not because we have presidential ambitions but because we feel obliged to do so. It’s time for Human Resources to reshape their department and to finally start adding value. But let’s start with a definition of a State of the Union first.
What is a State of the Union?
A State of the Union, according to Wikipedia, is an annual message delivered by the President of the United States to a joint session of the United States Congress at the beginning of each calendar year in office. The message typically includes a budget message and an economic report of the nation, and also allows the President to propose a legislative agenda and national priorities.
Why a State of the Union for Human Resources?
Having the definition in mind you wonder: what the hell has this to do with me or my job within Human Resources? It’s obvious that a State of Union given by the President of the United States has no real direct impact on you, your profession or the company you work for.
However more and more companies are creating a State of the Union. Although it might not be called like that, companies still tell their employees what went well, what didn’t go well and what’s ahead during a yearly overview. Let’s do almost the same exercise for Human Resources and examine their current situation and more importantly come up with ideas how Human Resources can reclaim their power. Yes, this is a big hint!
A brief history of Human Resources (what went well?)
In order to do so we need to have a look at the history of Human Resources.
Back in 1890 there was no need for a strategic business partner. The farmers and mostly factory workers were looking for help to cope with the drastic working hours and hazardous conditions. They needed bargaining power and that’s why, even till today, we have trade unions.
But there was a change of winds just before the World Wars thanks to Frederik Taylor who introduced scientific management. Taylor advised business owners and managers on how to better manage their people for better results. You might say he was the first ever HR consultant.
After the World Wars Human Resources was occupied with welfare, employment management and much more. The term personnel management was coined and more specialised functions were introduced.
In the eighties Human Resources repositioned themselves as Human Resources Management with new responsibilities. The development of labour relations was by no means a linear process. It involved countless acts of legislation, movements, advancements in psychology and technology and changes in workplace philosophy.
When we look at this brief history we can agree that Human Resources has done well in general till this point. However, as the graphic shows, Human Resources should be a strategic partner by now. Ahum. Let’s have a look at what didn’t go well.
The speed of change (what didn’t go well?)
It seems that HR professionals nowadays have been put to sleep very slowly by a board of directors, by other departments and maybe even by robots for that matter.
For some strange reasons Human Resources finds it difficult to cope with change and let’s face it: the world is evolving fast these days. How we do business, the way we work and how we look at things.
All these changes hurt the transition of Human Resources to move to the point where they are recognized as a strategic partner. The running joke, as we speak, is that Covid-19 is responsible for the digital transformation of your organization.
Obviously Human Resources was never in the lead for the digital transformation within your company, but truth to be said, they weren’t embracing the transformation either.
Human Resources acts more as a gatekeeper than to use this digital transformation as an opportunity to (finally) add value. This is also true with even smaller changes like the ever evolving landscape of social media.
A true strategic business partner (what’s ahead?)
The scary thing is that the job of Human Resources has barely changed since 1980 and Human resources is doing what they always have been doing. Whereas they are in the perfect position to create impact if they would only focus on the things where they add value.
Why would you do recurring tasks like calculating salaries yourself? This task is perfect for a computer / robot as it never makes mistakes. This is just one example of things that are likely to happen in the near future.
Instead of being afraid Human Resources can think ahead and use this opportunity to become a true strategic business partner. That’s right, a partner of the business that’s responsible for roughly two tasks within a company: attracting new talent and retaining current talent.
In order to do both, Human Resources should focus on developing their talent, building a strong culture and start communicating their employer brand outside their own four walls. If they succeed in doing this, they will not only outperform their competitors but they will finally be the strategic partner you are supposed to be.
Many people like Dave Ulrich (HR Transformation, building Human Resources from the outside in), Seth Godin (tribes) and even Simon Sinek (Start with WHY) wrote books about these opportunities in the beginning of this century.
But even with these clear guidelines, Human Resources is still struggling with adding value in their profession and claiming their seat at the table, figuratively speaking. That’s a pity. Because Human Resources should be a strategic partner and here social media can help.