Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

What do C level officers do? 10: reconsidering Human Resources and its leadership for the 21st century

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on December 1, 2014

This is my tenth posting to a series on what C level officers of a business or organization do, that specifically emerge as job requirements for the senior leadership of an organization (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 376 and following for Parts 1-9.) And so far I have focused essentially entirely on positions that are either:

• Routine and standard for essentially any business with a headcount of sufficient scale as to warrant having a formal table of organization,
• Or routinely assumed to be executive positions if found necessary to have filled at all, on that table of organization (e.g. the Chief Strategy Officer – see Part 5, and the Chief Security Officer – see Part 7 and Part 8.)

I turn here to consider a position that is essentially always there in one form or other but that is routinely all but invisible in the overall business decision making process and in overall strategic planning. But I would argue the case that this is a position that is increasingly going to have to be taken into account in those executive level process flows if that business is to be and remain competitively effective long-term in the emerging 21st century business climates faced: the Director of Human Resources.

The primary goal of this posting is to explain and argue the case for that assertion and I begin by noting that while I always seek to break into at least some new ground for every posting of this blog, this posting might be seen as an exception. My goal here is to bring together in one organized place a collection of thoughts and perspectives that I have been developing and presenting individually, scattered throughout this blog and in particular throughout my Human Resources and Personnel directory (see its Page 1 and Page 2, and in my Business Strategy and Operations directory (see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3.) And I begin that by making an assertion that is frequently proclaimed by business leaders, but that is more often stated and quickly moved on from than it is followed through upon.

• In general and with very few if any real exceptions, a business’ most important asset and resource is its personnel, with their collective training and experience and their dedication to work in support of that organization.

A business owner or leader might have a profound understanding of where a business is now and of where it could be brought to as it grows and evolves. An owner or executive level leader might be inspiring as an organizer who can bring a workforce together in pursuit of commonly shared goals. But it is that business’ employees and at all levels of its table of organization who turn those ideas, those possibilities into an active ongoing reality and who hands-on achieve those goals. And no leader can lead unless and until others are willing to at least as wholeheartedly follow, and follow-through on all that has to be done.

The traditional image of Human Resources, whether called that or Personnel is one of bureaucratic functionaries whose primary role is to process and store paperwork that while necessary, is not particularly central to the business or involved in its ongoing effectiveness or profitability. And this, while presented as a simplified cartoon image, fairly accurately represents what I would call here the 20th century classic HR model. There, the manager or director of HR by whatever service name or job title, is viewed primarily as the most senior paper pusher of this group.

But at the same time, even limited-role and limited-inclusion HR personnel and HR managers and directors play significant if not always appreciated roles in job candidate searches and in the hiring process, in new employee onboarding, and in a whole range of services and processes that lead to improved retention of the right employees and throughout their tenure as employees. And they play a significant role in a wide range of significant due diligence and risk remediation issues as well.

The range and complexity of functional areas and business processes that HR has to be involved in have expanded, and even dramatically in recent years. And their levels of necessary involvement in all of this has expanded too, and certainly if a business is to seek to capture competitive value everywhere it can throughout its operational and strategic systems and in how it meets market needs. And the scope and significance of HR’s potential roles in managing due diligence and risk remediation issues have expanded too, and both as employees are brought in under wider and wider ranges of terms of employment, and as they engage with the hiring business in a progressively wider range of ways – and with interactive online telecommuting only one of these new and emerging possibilities.

I said above that I am mostly if not entirely just repeating points already made here in this blog, here in this posting. And I probably highlight that when I cite here, some select references that I have already posted as to how HR can contribute and even significantly operationally own specific business-crucial process flows. So citing references that can be turned to for more details from my first Human Resources and Personnel directory page and its Page 2 continuation (and following relevant included series titles with the directory page number listings for their installments), and as a still quite incomplete list of what a modern 21st century HR department can and should so, I note here their central involvement in:

• Hiring – see Hiring 101 (postings 101 and following for Parts 1-9),
• Onboarding – see Onboarding New Employees 101 (postings 119 and following for Parts 1-13),
• Employee training and retention – see Employee Training and Development, and the Creation and Retention of Value (postings 107 and following for Parts 1-8),
• Overall compensation policy (postings 63 and following for Parts 1-6),
• Business process audits – see Human Resources Audits 101 (postings 183 and following for Parts 1-6),
• Dealing with employee problems where that, to cite just two areas of due diligence and risk remediation concern includes issues such as Confronting and Empty Desk (postings 53-56) and Workplace Discrimination (postings 57-60),
• Dealing with employee special needs and the at least occasional requirement of making personnel policy exceptions, and of managing the evolution of personnel processes to meet changing needs and requirements (posting 197 and following for Parts 1-10),
• And of course, performance reviews (postings 24, 33, etc.) and more.

When a business overlooks significant sources of potential insight and informational input in its overall operational and strategic decision making processes, it in effect voluntarily throws away a source of significant business strength and competitive value. Continuing to pursue a 20th century approach to HR in a rapidly emerging and evolving 21st century context can only accomplish that. And if Human Resources is anything like the increasingly important-to-include service area that I claim it to be here and throughout my relevant discussions in this blog then the lead manager of this functional area needs to be there and contributing and they need to be actively listened to as well.

• They need to be a part of the strategic team too,
• And both so they can directly learn what they need to know from other lines on the table of organization in order to keep their services as updated and relevant as possible,
• And so they can contribute what they learn from working with personnel from across the business, and from their study of HR practices and requirements in their industry and general, as their insight would offer value.

And this brings me squarely to the issues of what a director of Human Resources needs to do if they are to be included in and effective in the executive leadership team.

• An effective 21st century HR leader has to both actively pursue the same type of dual vision that other executive leaders do, and need to do if they are to remain relevant. And they need to be involved and connected so their leadership peers know that.
• This means holding and maintaining an active inwardly facing functional area focus on what their own department or service is doing and both operationally and strategically.
• And this also means maintaining an active and involved focus on how their department supports the business as a whole, and of where it could moving forward.
• This means striving for excellence within their own functional area in meeting overall business needs and it means thinking and speaking and writing in terms of a larger, business-wide strategic vision and of how their service area and its functions can connect into and support all other functional areas.
• Even vitally important potential voices can be left out where silo walls and personality differences, and an unwillingness to listen and include prevent inclusion. But the only way to become included, and to be brought into the strategic leadership team is to act like and communicate like a member of that team – and by demonstrating through ongoing example that you qualify and that you should be included.
• Put somewhat differently, a 21st century Chief Executive officer and Chief Operating Officer, and a Chief Strategy Officer if the business explicitly has one should look for and even demand a director of Human Resources who has the experience and skills and willingness to be a modern 21st century participant in the overall business strategy and leadership team.

I am going to expand out this team in a more industry and business-type specific manner in my next series installment where I will turn to consider production systems management in manufacturing businesses, and innovation in businesses that organize and run explicit research and development systems, to cite two working examples. As a foretaste of that next series installment to come, I will explicitly discuss those two working examples, but I will do so in terms of a wider-organizing conceptual framework, and with a goal of identifying where functional area leaders in general, would most effectively be included in the executive team. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. I also include this posting in Page 2 of my Human Resources and Personnel directory and also see its Page 1 for related material.

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