So, I have had some great conversations over the past day or so with some colleagues who read my post and had some interesting feedback (auto tweet posting has increased my readership by 700% dod). I will try to summarize them here as they all had value.
1) HR people tend to treat their career path as “HR”. Meaning that they do not specialize in any industry in particular. They might work in manufacturing for a few year, move into advertising etc… They can do this because their area of expertise is HR, not an industry. Other organizational roles tend to be industry specific. Therefore it is not unlikely that the head of HR sitting at the “table” with other execs does not have the insight and knowledge into the business that they have, having worked in the industry (finance, media, manufacturing) for 20+ years to get to where they are. For an HR person to get an equal seat they would have to show their expertise in the industry they are in that could match any of the other execs. A HR head with a client facing or finance background would be a huge asset and would easily “get a seat”.
2) Thanks to Ben for his comment about HR needing to recruit from the business. Very true and gives some critical insight into the HR world. HR people don’t want to work on the business side. We like our work/life balance, what we do and the freedom we get. It would take a heck of a lot of money for me to move into a sales or client facing role that would totally disrupt my life. I like to think I am good at what I do and that’s what keeps me employed, but I don’t necessarily work as hard as others do (in my HR role that is), which may prevent me from getting an equal seat.The down side is that it also could prevent me from moving forward. Which is why I get involved with customer service and strategic planning, the business side. Which leads to point 3.
3) HR is not that hard. It really isn’t. I could outsource 75% of what I do. Sure, that might not be cost effective, but it also means that completion of my responsibilities is not solely dependent on me. In growing companies it is the last “new” role hired because up until that point someone has been doing it as a part of their job. To be really good at HR you can’t just do your job. You need to be innovative and indispensable. How many HR people are really indispensable? To get equal say you need to be adding tremendous value to the business. Not just keeping costs down, but increasing revenue and profitability. How many HR people can claim that they can do this. Do it and you get a seat.
The 3rd point is something I keep stressing to my interns, don’t worry about HR you can learn that pretty easily, learn about the business so that you can figure out how to add value to it through your role. I think anyone wanting to get into HR should intern in finance in the industry they want to get into, that way they truly get the business. It is the only way you can become innovative and indispensable. Current HR metrics (time to hire, lowering costs, training hours) are nice, but they don’t make you indispensable. Sorry.
For years the big HR conversation was about HR getting a seat at the table. The goal was for the HR head to be considered an equal partner within the executive team. I don’t hear as much chatter about it these days, so what happened? Did HR get the at the table?
Here is my though on it:
I don’t think it ever happened. My litmus test? How many CEO’s do you see that were former heads of HR? To truly have an equal seat at the table means you need an equal say, which means you have enough knowledge to be able to potentially be the CEO. That’s typically the head of sales, CFO and COO. Why not HR? Because HR has never acquired enough knowledge.
HR should be able to produce, sell and support whatever the business sells, if you can do that then you are an equal partner. The only way for HR to be taken seriously is to really understand the business and how it functions. HR continues to fail to provide ROI beyond hiring, retention and employee satisfaction/engagement. When HR starts to show how it contributes to the business success we’ll have made it.
The opportunity is still there, HR needs to be seen as not just a contributor, a knowledgeable asset too.
Every few months I’ll get the question, “Hey Avi, aren’t great sales people just built differently?” This is typically asked in a session where I am discussing coaching, feedback or motivation. The individual is basically asking why we need to coach, provide feedback or motivate employees, either they have it or they don’t, right? The simple answer is yes, top sales people, engineers or managers do have similar characteristics. The top sales people and any given company have remarkably similar skills that make them great. So why don’t we just look for those individuals when hiring? Why don’t we just let people go if we find that they don’t have that skill or competency set? Why do we bother trying to find individuals of varying backgrounds to fill roles that we should easily be able to fill with our cookie cutter model?
The other night I was watching the Jets/Dolphins game. The Jets, who have been a great defensive team so far this season, struggled whenever the Dolphins went into their Wildcat set. The Dolphins therefore ran the Wildcat 16 times for 110 yards. The Jets defense is designed to get after the quarterback, it’s built for sacks. They didn’t record one sack the entire night, because the Dolphins didn’t even give them the opportunity. The Dolphins could have done what most other teams do, run your basic combination of passes and runs with your quarterback on the field for every play, but they would have lost. They would not have beaten the Jets by just passing and running the ball, the Jets defense would have eaten them up. They beat the Jets because they had plays where there were 4 running backs on the field and no quarterback in sight.
What happens when you have too many employees who have the exact same make up? Complacency, limitations, ceilings. You are only as good as they are and can pretty much predict how far you will get. So what sets you apart? Doing something that no one else is doing, toeing the line and breaking the mold. You’ll never know what else you could have built if you don’t hire an engineer who is just a little different than everyone else. You’ll never know the potential your sales team has if you don’t hire a few sales people who are atypical. So the next time someone asks you why you don’t just hire out of the mold, ask them if they are comfortable with the limitations that come with it. Ask them if they want the opportunity to win some of the time or do they want to have a chance to win every time, even against the better team.