HR Needs to Look in the Mirror

Alexandra Levit, Managing Partner, PeopleResults
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Last year, a colleague emailed me a report by McKinsey and the Conference Board. Called False Summit: Why the Human Capital Function Still Has Far To Go, the paper eschewed the notion that companies and their leadership teams have achieved the holistic and systematic view of human capital strategy that is required in today’s business world.

Using research conducted across three methods: a global survey, a literature review, and domestic and international focus groups, McKinsey and the Conference Board identified a few specific challenges that have held HR back in its effort to make more important contributions to the organization and its operations.

The Challenges

Basic capability was cited as the first problem. HR leaders, said the researchers, aren’t able to confidently and assertively solve business issues with line leaders and define the subsequent human capital implications.

The second issue? Mindset. HR professionals view themselves as responsible for a support function. They have a low tolerance for risk and a limited sense of strategic authorship.

Finally, HR is unable to communicate the ROI or business impact of the function. HR professionals have a reputation for being somewhat illiterate when it comes to general business acumen, and even if an organization is typically supportive of innovation, the most intriguing propositions and initiatives aren’t coming from the HR camp.

The Opportunities

This research was published almost three years ago, but I still hear from a lot of frustrated HR practitioners who feel that their organizations don’t take them seriously. They complain that they can’t get budget for their projects and they live in constant fear that half the department will be laid off next week.

The strategic imperative of effective policies involving recruitment, retention, succession and workforce planning, employee engagement, and skill acquisition has never been more significant, and HR-related technology and social media developments have never been more exciting. Yet HR itself struggles to change.

It’s time for HR to look in the mirror and stop blaming the executive team, the Board, other departments, or the field’s negative perception (or all of the above) for the c-suite’s closed door policy. Perhaps, if HR professionals were more willing to expand outside their comfort zones, take risks, and consider long-term gains over short-term expenses, they could inch closer to that golden chair at the CEO’s table. Maybe if they took the extra step of educating themselves about the business beyond their immediate roles and responsibilities, they would open minds about the value of a true partnership.

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