HR: from Resources to Human
It's only recently, and thanks to Learning specialist Charles Jennings (author of the great "Love the way you learn" booklet), that I heard about the Cluetrain Manifesto and its 95 theses. The religious and historical allusion notwithstanding, I'd like to pick up 3 of those which I believe are important for HR:
- In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
- These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organisation and knowledge exchange to emerge.
- As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organised. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
Those 3 elements highlight the strategic role of HR in an organisation: it has to enable dialogue between employees, encourage knowledge sharing and manage changes resulting from the digital revolution - thus implying that the mission of HR is currently undergoing a deep and profound transformation. Working for Cornerstone OnDemand, a leader in Talent Management software, I observe how HR professionals are leveraging technologies to move from the old school administrative role to "serving as catalysts to business agility and resilience", as my colleague Mike Bollinger puts it.
In effect, this means that HR now has the proper tools to stop managing resources that happen to be human, and can start managing humans in terms of available and potential skills. If we stick to the definition that HR is in charge of ensuring that the company employs the right person at the right position with the right skills, now and in the future, this implies that there is a huge opportunity for HR professionals to have a profound impact on the business, thanks to digital.
I personally don't buy into the well-worn topic of "HR business partner", as I believe HR should be much more than a "partner". After all, a partnership is what you expect from a supplier or an external consultant for example, and it can be limited in time. This is why Mike's word of "catalyst" is much better. Over the last 15 years, a series of innovation waves have enabled HR to provide much deeper and advanced services to the entire organisation. Here are just a few examples:
- Recruiting has become much more precise as old fashioned Applicant Tracking Systems are replaced by modern features such as skills parsing and predictive hiring. Measurable results go from lower attrition rates to higher customer satisfaction
- Learning efforts can now be much more targeted, accessible anywhere, related to development plans. They can impact both short term results (proven correlation with operational efficiency and financial results) and long term strategy (e.g. succession planning)
- Compensation can truly be related to performance. In addition, modern analytics enable HR to see which lever has most impact on future performance
With the help of technology (from cloud-based services up to Big Data), HR can now rely on efficient tools to get real insight on employee data, manage process more efficiently and, at the end of the day, have more opportunity to work closely with the teams on the field in order to deliver truly operational service. This deep relationship with the entire organisation is absolutely vital for HR as it's the Human part of their job. As written in the Cluetrain Manifesto:
- Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
- The community of discourse is the market.
- Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
Therefore, HR has to "belong to the community of discourse", which it will only get if it has a clear understanding of the market, the risk being to be considered distant and thus insignificant. The silver lining of the opposite (i.e. "belonging to the community") is of course that being a catalyst in a chemical reaction means that you are at the very centre of it!