“People are our greatest asset”.
I can’t tell you how many times CEOs have bestowed the above phrase upon me with a dramatic gesture and a sincere expression. But, in all honesty, I often wonder if they mean that or if it has become one of the over-used business clichés we have become all too familiar with.
“Human resources”, as we know it, did not exist 30 years ago and since then it should have become a strategic powerhouse of organizational development, as the war for talent rages on. But in the UK – as a case in point – no HR director sits on the main board of a FTSE100 company and, in some cases, the senior HR leader does not even have a seat on the executive board. This has not always been the case; large corporates including Cadbury and Cable & Wireless have had HR directors on their main boards in the past.
What’s going wrong? If people “are our greatest asset”, why are the strategic parts of HR (talent management, organizational development and change management) moving to other departments such as finance? Is HR destined to stand for “human remains” or “historical remnants”?
Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to have chaired two business roundtable dinners, in association with people engagement consultancy Purple Cubed, on the controversial subject “Is HR dead?” A morbid thought for a dinner discussion, you might think – but I can testify that the champagne was perfectly chilled, the food was delicious and the debate was very much alive on both occasions. All the delegates came from the service industry, which is the fastest growing business sector in the world, measured by turnover – so one would hope people really are their greatest asset.
The first roundtable had guests made up only of CHROs and HR directors, while the second was compiled of CEOs and operations directors. The most interesting thing I noted was that while HR directors were keen to point out the strategic imperative of their role, CEOs agreed with them. Both groups were pushing for HR director representation in their C-suites, recognizing that the growing imperative for dynamic people strategy has moved the HR director into a role of trusted adviser to the CEO.
As our columnist Dave Ulrich points out (p21), business silos have to be broken down. He says leaders can deliver capabilities by understanding how they become embedded through HR practices in people, performance, communication and work.
He adds that with advice from HR professionals, leaders can make informed choices in each of these domains to stabilize capabilities.
Our analysis (page 70) takes the conversation about the future of HR into a global context asking international leaders about their views on HR (with some surprising results) – but I can’t help but think that the role of a business dialogue has to be to nurture collaboration between all the functions of a company for the greater good, rather than debating if HR is “dead” or if indeed it needs to be executed…