Blogs by Marc S. Miller


The cover of the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review (July/August 2015) shows an image of a bomb, with the title – “It’s Time to Blow Up HR and Build Something New”. 

It is getting lots of notice – especially to us in the field – in one way or another. The article reminds me of the very famous “Why we hate HR” article in Fast Company magazine, August 2005. 

Both articles have attention getting titles, both addressing the similar issues of the viability of the HR function and presenting, at least in the Fast Company article a rather sarcastic (yet true) depiction of the people who have chosen HR as a career – back 10 years ago. Both articles providing guidance and commentary on the things HR must do to be considered a valuable function within any organization. 

The HBR article has prompted Pamela Harding – who serves as the CHRO of “the worlds largest independent operator of Linkedin Groups – OnLine Media – to pose the question to the largest HR membership group on Linkedin – Linked:HR. She states that the core of these articles is that HR must be “data driven” and proceed with “datafication”. Many member responses (as of now, nearly 100) are interesting and enlightening as to what people perceive of HR and what is needing to be done to it, or with it. The majority agree that something needs to be done. HR needs to be reconfigured, re- focuses and. well, re – everything. 

As you can see from my post’s title – HR has the tools to do any and ALL of the many suggestions and dictates provided by the authors in HBR and the Linked;HR members. Our key tool, and the one that most protects and preserves the viability of HR’s vast functional responsibilities – is here and now, that of effective and proven HR Technology. 

Today’s comprehensive HRMS, HRIS, HCMS – by any acronym – as delivered – gives inspired managers and leadership all that they can ask for. 

HR technology truly serves as our “BOMB SHELTER”, preventing us from being considered a bombing target (so to speak). 

Let me make my case by summarizing the first of the 3 articles that comprise the cover story of the Harvard Business Review issue.
It is entitled “Why We Love to Hate HR… and What HR Can Do About It” by Peter Cappelli (Professor of Management at the Wharton School, Author). 

I found this article to be the most specific about the role HR used to play (historically) and now should play in the day to day operations within any effective organization. 

Capelli states that complaints against HR, are not new and have a cyclical quality. (yes, we have seen that – 10 years ago with the Hate HR article in FastCompany). He goes on to state that “complaints are driven largely by the business context”. According to the author (and much related research) when companies are struggling with labor issues, HR is seen as a valued leadership partner. When things are smoother all around, managers wonder what the function is doing for them. 

Capelli states that now is “a moment of enormous opportunity for HR leaders to separate the valuable from the worthless and secure huge payoffs for their organizations”. The author outlines some basic but powerful steps they can take: 

Set the agenda. 

CEOs are rarely experts on workplace issues, so the HR team can show them what they should care about—such as layoffs, recruiting, flexible work arrangements, and performance management—and why. Most of this data is maintained in an HRMS, historically, current and able to be projected into the future. 

Focus on the here and now. 

This means continually identifying new challenges and designing tools to meet them. 

Acquire business knowledge. 

HR needs first-rate analytic minds to help companies make sense of all their employee data. Workforce Analytics are a strong component of today’s top tier HRMS applications. HR has to gain this knowledge. 

Highlight financial benefits. 

HR departments don’t usually calculate ROI for their programs, but quantifying costs and benefits turns talent decisions into business decisions. Metrics related to costs of programs and other variables are often included in delivered templates of dashboards – for graphical display and “drill down” analysis. 

Walk away from time wasters. 

Often programs lack impact unless top executives lead them, transforming the culture. Otherwise HR is just a booster for initiatives it can neither enforce nor measure. 

As an independent HR Technology consultant, helping my clients evaluate and select HRMS software applications from among many great vendor providers, I strongly believe that HR remains critical and vital to the success of any organization, large or small, anywhere in the world. 

HR must be at the center of a transformation – bringing added value information to those that need it (even if the “those” do not even know the information is gettable and important). Today’s integrated HRMS capabilities tie all of the functions within the realm of Human Resources, Payroll and Benefits together. These capabilities include Time and Attendance, Talent Management, Performance Management, Succession Planning, Skills and Competencies, Education and Training, Learning Management, and of course general administration of HR and Life events, not to mention all regulatory reporting and adhoc reporting. 

Coupled with built in workforce analytics, an intuitive user experience with ESS and MSS, direct connections to benefits carriers, integration with time capture and attendance, I cannot think of any reason why HR cannot use these tools to support their appreciation and movement from “Data Management” to “Information Craftsmanship”. 

Indeed, HR providing useful, actionable “information” – which is the outgrowth of raw data maintained in a comprehensive system of record. This information should drive the organizations’ leadership in dealing with the challenges of today (of 2015) – and beyond: Talent Management, Millennial management, the aging workforce, virtual and remote workers and teams, Affordable Care Act administration, social media, etc. 

If not HR, who else? 

A proven – well supported by a HRMS provider acting as a “strategic partner” and not just as a “vendor’ with a product to deliver, along 

with “inspired” leadership on the part of their client, creates in my analogy a “shelter’ – which gives HR the capability to effectively and efficiently deliver, support and accomplish (oftentimes in partnership with other corporate departments) many of the key actions and deliverables discussed in the 3 Harvard Business Review articles. 

In my mind, there is no doubt that the mandates for a new role for the HR function, and (in the other HBR articles) a new approach for the CHRO – that of a triumvirate with the CFO, and CEO – CANNOT be accomplished in the absence of an effective HRMS. 

The second of the 3 articles within the “Bomb HR” cover story set is focused on the role of the CHRO. It is titled: “People Before Strategy: A New Role for the CHRO” by Ram Charan, Dominic Barton and Dennis Carey. 

The authors begin by commenting on research that shows that CEOs undervalue their HR function and their Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), which then leads to making the overall challenge to companies of managing human capital that much more difficult. 

The authors suggest that CEOs must redefine and elevate the CHRO role. And that the CEO should document his/her expectations of the CHRO leadership as an expert on “talent” (both inhouse and at the competition) by 1) in predicting the outcomes of strategically deploying human resources, 2) diagnosing people-related problems that are hurting the company’s performance, and 3) prescribing actions on the people side that will create value. The authors specifically suggest that “administrative tasks, such as managing benefits, might be delegated to others”. They go on to insist that the CHRO should be assessed by actions that deliver revenue, margin, brand recognition, or market share. 

With this new mandate from the CEO, and with appropriate business training, the CHRO can contribute to the organization just as powerfully as the CFO can. Indeed, the CEO should partner with the CHRO and the CFO in what the authors call a G3—a triumvirate to steer the company. Although reshaping the HR function could take multiple years, the authors’ experience with companies such as GE and BlackRock suggests that it’s well worth the effort. 

In the the third article of the series titled “Bright, Shiny Objects and the Future of HR” the authors John Boudreau and Steven Rice present a case study of a company called Juniper Networks.
In this study, the authors cautioned against the temptation to “chase after a new practice, a new expert, or new research (even a fad) that seems to provide some relief or a solution to a problem”. 

The authors believe that is is far more valuable, is to “fall in love with the problem”. By doing so, you are not so eager to embrace the first possible solution and move on. The authors suggest that a decision maker should spend some time letting the challenge soak in, studying it from various angles, and understanding it more deeply. Rather than hastening to narrow the scope of your decision and the options under consideration, that person would remain receptive to additional, possibly better ones. This is what Juniper Networks learned as it renewed its focus on values and culture as a differentiator. 

The article presents the challenge to Juniper as moving away from a ‘bright shiny object” meaning, not immediately embracing cool new research and insights about talent management and leadership. Indeed, they want any organization to dig beneath the surface of a visible trend and explore the source of the outcomes, or the cause. By gaining insight, the appropriate value-add action can be undertaken. 

They discuss that Juniper System’s resolve to be different by design has four elements. It’s HR team works to understand the big picture of the business, seize on the most valuable ideas, apply them in context and manage their impact. 

The premise is that – any business that competes on innovation knows the value of talent and should have an HR function that can keep its edge. 

So, looking at these 3 articles, grouped under the marketing oriented, reader grabbing, attention getting cover image and heading of “Bombing HR”, I must positively state that all examples and guidance and commentary about what the function of HR must do to survive is imminently doable. 

One important caveat; without an underlying effect HRMS in place much of this advise will be very difficult to execute – if not impossible. 

Why am I so confident in this? Simply, because I know and have seen, the necessary tools to support these types of workforce analytics. They already exist and are available from a number of proven HRMS providers. Both from “best of breed” vendors whose entire focus is on Workforce Analytics, and from the top tier HRMS vendors who have done much in the last few years to build in and deliver templates and the capability to generate “dashboards’ of “big picture” corporate performance/ analytics. Any CHRO or any other senior leaders in the world of HR must leverage this available technology, this key tool, and use it to think strategically. 

That is the “bottom line” – the key to success, the “Bomb Shelter” – from obliteration – so to speak. 

Effective programs championed and delivered by HR in support of any companies overall strategic initiatives, well supported by data analytics arising from a single system of record, will keep HR valued and protected. 

HRMS technology is both the key to the “Bomb Shelter”, and at the same time is the “Shelter” from anyone trying to dis-enfranchise the role of Human Resources in a corporation. 

HR need not fear. You are not alone.

Marc S. Miller
August 8, 2015

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