HR needs freeing up to be a major player

I have just returned from Denver, where I attended the 2002 SHRM Thought
Leaders conference, an annual retreat hosted by the SHRM Foundation to
highlight the projected hot items for HR professionals over the next five

I was intrigued by the almost singular focus on the impact of e-HR, and how
our profession can and will be shaped by this, and what HR leadership might
look like going forward.

Professor Ed Lawler of the University of Southern California explored what
will happen to HR after e-HR really arrives. Lawler, professor of management
and organisation at the university’s Marshall School of Business, believes
there are three possible outcomes. HR becomes the subset of an IT-based
organisation; HR is obliterated by e-HR and is no longer needed or relevant; or
HR finally gets the running room and legs necessary to truly move forward – not
just as a business partner, but as a business player.

My vote is clearly on the side of HR taking a fully engaged role within an
organisation. This, however, presupposes two things. First, that senior management
in your entity want and embrace this, or at the very least will let you move
this forward; second, that you – as the HR leader – have the skills,
competencies and capabilities to manage and deliver this for your business.

Cheryl Fields Tyler, vice-president of performance consultancy the Concours
Group, proposed an interesting three-phase model of HR, which segmented our
profession as transactional, partner and player. I liked this, and can happily
advocate that being a business partner and having a seat at the table is now
necessary, but no longer sufficient. Yes, for those of you who’ve been aspiring
to business partner status, I’m saying that’s not enough.

So how do you know where you are? On the transactional front, if HR is
consumed with discussions with frontline employees about address changes and
insurance paperwork, then this is all we’ll be perceived to be of value for.
Yes, it must be done, but it can’t be perceived as our sole raison d’etre.

On the business partner side, if we spend our time with the right people
(the business development folks, finance, operations, board members, et al),
but only discuss HR issues, then we’ll have achieved partner status at least –
but are we really there?

I believe, though, that it is not until we spend our days talking with
business leaders, board members, external stake (and stock) holders about
broader business issues, and effectively deliver the people component of
solutions, that we will truly be players.

The technologies coming with e-HR and various outsourcing mechanisms will
clearly liberate HR professionals to do other things. Whether we choose to move
this into more value-added areas of support for our businesses, or allow our
occasional irrelevancy to take over, is really the next great question.

By Lance J. Richards, Board Director, SHRM Global Forum

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