I have been working as an adjunct member of corporate HR departments for most of my professional career. Even though I am not enthusiastic discussing benefits policy, I have strong feelings of support and sympathy for my fellow HR professionals. So I was saddened by the somewhat nasty (as well as somewhat accurate) attack on my HR brothers and sisters in the August 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.
Rather than speak to that particular article (by now I am quite sick of it!) I’d like to share another experience I have had looking at HR through the lens of the business leader.
This month I attended a panel presentation featuring three CFOs from major corporations sharing their view on how HR can be a strategic partner to the business.
In sum, I found their understanding of the role of HR in supporting business shockingly narrow and limited. When asked, “what are the primary contributions you see HR making to the business strategy?,” they responded by wanting competitive benefits that aid in retention and using creative ways to fill key positions faster. Staffing and benefits were repeatedly cited as key strategic drivers.
To these responses, I kept mentally saying, yes, but what about all the other services a sound HR unit provides? What about leadership development, new hire integration, culture change initiates, and good old training and development? And then in the last 10 minutes of the hour session, one CFO pointed out that good training and succession planning would help HR be viewed as more proactive by the C-level leaders.
Here is how I see it: HR is constantly chastised for not knowing the business but this sampling of CFOs showed me that at least some of them clearly lack an understanding of what HR is all about. HR leaders can certainly benefit form raising their level of business acumen but they will still lack impact if key senior leaders look at them as no more than suppliers of new hires.
As one CFO put it: “I see HR as the end of a production line, filling vacancies as they come open.” In fact, if you are viewed as no more than the last guy or gal putting the last widget on the motor before it goes into the car, how on earth can you provide strategy?
So the challenge for HR is two-fold: not only to continuously seek ways to increase our knowledge of the business world but also to continuously educate leadership about the breadth of services and support we offer the business. We aren’t at the end of the production line, we designed the production line.