Employees’ future should come before self-centred debate

Arguing over HR’s status misses the whole point of the function

The current self-obsessed focus on whether HR is strategic enough, whether
it is valued enough, whether those in it need to be specialists or generalists,
how IT literate they need to be and so on, all rather misses a more fundamental

There is something more important for the most senior HR professionals to
focus on – their responsibility to create a vision for the future of people in
their organisation.

The Industrial Society argued in its national work manifesto, published
before the general election, that the most powerful force that will change the
world of work will be the simple commercial imperative. The most successful
organisations in any sustainable sense of the word will be those that recognise
that their people are not "their most important asset" but that
people are their only source of sustainable competitive advantage.

The current concentration on delivering the immediate corporate strategy and
putting effective processes in place for administration does not serve the
future of our organisations or our people well – although it is all too often
all that is asked of HR.

So what would it mean to be an HR visionary for your organisation? One
question to ask is, what are you doing to enable the most senior management to
philosophically, emotionally and rationally understand why people are the
organisation rather than part of the process to be "managed"? If this
perspective were adopted, then what could the organisation be and mean to all
those that experience it?

HR visionaries should argue that commercial success is the result of putting
people – employees, customers and other stakeholders – at the centre of corporate

Why are so many business decisions taken to satisfy only the most fickle and
least emotionally invested of our stakeholders, namely the shareholder?

You should also be an HR heretic – the future of HR is in its own
liquidation. If all of the competitive advantage of an organisation is vested
in its relationship with its people, then the key competency of all managers is
to engage, invigorate, recognise, develop, reward, and relate to, the
organisation’s people. If HR can get this fundamental focus right, it could
have sown the seeds of its own demise.

A board that sees people at the heart of everything that is the organisation
does not need an HR director to remind them of that.

Managers who seek to continuously develop their own people skills don’t need
a management development manager to source programmes for them.

Also, if an organisation were truly people-centred then processes for appraisal,
knowledge management, recognition and retention would not need to exist. For
example, if every manager had an absolute conviction that they had a
responsibility to provide feedback, coaching and development appropriate to the
needs of their people, why would there need to be an appraisal system to ensure
that it occurred?

HR visionaries should also be audacious. Can you balance the desire to get a
seat on the board with the willingness to speak the unspeakable? Believe the
unbelievable? Make a difference to peoples’ lives rather than not rocking the

There is a belief that many work-based human relations are dysfunctional and
are a legacy of the Industrial Revolution’s dehumanisation and systemisation.
My vision is for the rehumanisation of the workplace, for organisations to
become stewards of human development and for their products and services to be
celebrated as nothing less than the manifestations of human spirit, creativity
and ingenuity. Is that all too much to ask? In the interests of a challenge,
let’s hope so.

By Steve Phillips an ideas engineer at consultancy Ideas Unlimited, www.idea-s.com

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