Stinky HR - Is there a Difference between the VP and Manager level?
May 22, 2008
First up, you know my position about the studies - past, present and future - that say HR stinks and doesn't get any respect. Stop whining and be different than the HR people those whitepapers talk about. It's pretty easy when you think about it. Know the business you support, be functionally excellent and look for business problems to solve.
So everybody do that... Please...
Most of the folks talking about the latest study agree with that take. You've got Ann, Frank, Dan and Deb basically saying the same thing - which is good. I like it when voices I know and respect have the same (or similar) take...
One voice I like to read had a different take - Jon Ingham from the UK. Here's part of what he said in reaction to what Deb wrote, (Deb's points in bold, Jon's reactions follow):
"2) too many HR folks can't speak the CFO's language / HR people expect others to understand “HR Speak”
Well, OK, we need to understand our businesses and be comfortable with Finance, but we need to educate the rest of the business to use the CPO's language too!
We shouldn't expect our business colleagues to understand debates around grandfathering or red circling, but they do need to understand how reward influences motivation, and 'engagement' is no more jargon than 'balance sheet'."
3) too many HR folks are all about the party planning
Sorry, I don't see them. I think this one's a myth. (But note, the early results of my Social Connecting survey suggest that physical, connecting activities like parties are likely to be more effective at building social capital than virtual ones using social media tools).
If you read Jon's site, he's a strategic guy. There might be some "across the pond" differences as well, but I doubt those are significant. For the most part, his reaction should be viewed in the same context as ours.
...With this possible exception. It seems like Jon spends most of his time on strategy and less time focused on the basic HR Manager type of work. If Jon, based on his practice, doesn't see the same things Deb and I do (and I agree with Deb's points), does that mean there's a difference in the competency level and the ability to connect with the business when it comes to the average VP of HR vs. HR Manager?
Your first reaction is probably "duh" - that there should be. After all, you're paying VPs to be VPs. I'm not sure - I think there's some weakness within the titles of HR Director and VP of HR as well.
In agreeing with Deb's points, I'm going to say that unlike Jon, I see a lot of what she described in many HR Managers, Directors and VPs that serve client groups of 500 or more employees. That's large enough to have some scale, and also a critical mass where the HR Manager/Director/VP has an opportunity to be at the table, to be the peer of the Marketing, Engineering, or Customer Service leads for the company or unit in question.
I like Jon's perspective a lot. I'm thinking that if he doesn't see some of the fundamental weaknesses where he's at (the cheerleader thing, inability to connect with the business, the over-focus on transactions and administration, etc.), he may be in the stratosphere of the profession in Europe. That's OK - the SVPs need friends too, but in the next decade it's the folks who take HR client groups of 500-2000 employees who will shape the reputation of the profession.
I also really like Jon's perspective (on many topics, not just this one), but my view of the world (which includes a lot of the HR management population that you have ID'd) - unfortunately - suggests that Deb's points are right on.
Yes, we need to push a more solid understanding of the impact of motivation and engagement at our non-HR exec peers, but I think we need to do it in the language of business, an area in which many of us still struggle for fluency.
And the party planning thing is legitimate. Not that this group spends all their time planning parties, but they can give off the appearance that they are more comfortable in that realm than in the realm of business strategy and value creation.
To me, the issue isn't just about rescuing the reputation of our profession. It is about bringing an important and needed perspective - ours - to that mythical table.
Posted by: Ann Bares | May 22, 2008 at 06:30 AM
My 2 cents: SHRM bashing has become en vogue on some blogs, but to their benefit the PHR and SPHR certifications are an honest attempt to address this very issue; with two levels of certifications for the line-level practitioner and SVP.
Saying, "don't stink" is always good advice, but raising the bar through recognized certifications and higher minimum qualifications for HR professionals is the only actionable way to make that happen. Otherwise, any college drop-out who "doesn't like math" and is "good with people" will believe that HR is the job for them.
Posted by: Andres | May 22, 2008 at 10:35 AM
Andres - agree with your thoughts. How do we raise those standards to make that happen? Are the certifications enough? Lots of folks who can't talk the biz have the certifications... Please expound with your thoughts....
Posted by: KD | May 22, 2008 at 10:58 AM
I did wonder about this myself. Particularly in some of my other challenges – for example I justify the fact that HR people often prefer talk to action by talking about the complex issues they need to tackle. Well, I know that the things a lot of HR people deal with are all fairly straight forward, or at least obey the laws of cause and effect. So this point at least has limited application.
But I don’t think this is just a seniority thing. It’s true that I do a lot of strategic work – but I do some more traditional HR stuff too. And this tends to involve working with various members, at different levels, within an HR team. Even the strategic stuff tends to involve other people than the HRD / VP.
And I agree with you, I don’t think it can be a UK thing, particularly as 1) a lot of my work is outside the UK, and 2) I think most UK HR bloggers would agree with you and Deb (am I right, Scott, Rick?).
So I think it’s more about the type of company that tends to ask me in. These tend to see HR as a strategic enabler rather than simply a support function – and they ask me in because they know this is my perspective too. And it’s in these companies therefore, that although I may meet HR people who are clearly still on a journey to becoming more strategic, I don’t meet the party organiser type any more.
So, I’d simply say there are some organisations where HR isn’t stinky. And these, not too surprisingly, tend to be some of the HR-focused. The rest, you’ve persuaded me, still have a way to go.
Posted by: Jon Ingham | May 22, 2008 at 04:29 PM
HA! well kris, we must be psychically (sp?) connected today or something because i just (finally) posted my response to jon's post.
although, my response wasn't as well-thought out as yours. (ha!) mine was basically, "okay, so jon doesn't see it. but i do."
i am thrilled to see you guys talking about this. quite honestly, having recently left the HR world for the 2nd time in my career, i'm just presenting what i've not only seen but what the perception is.
HR folks just digging in their heels and saying, "is not" to these perceptions isn't going to help change the field. actually talking about it and making improvements will.
and i definitely find all the discussion about why jon (and others) see what they see from where they sit versus where i (or others) see what i see intriguing!
all the best!
Posted by: deb | May 22, 2008 at 06:02 PM
Thanks to all of you for this great conversation. I myself am a young HR manager and was until this week in a large manufacturing plant (~700) with a team of 2 much more comfortable with the "party planning" aspect of the HR role (and that of correcting policy violations) than that of the how does HR contribute and solve bottom-line issues, such as quality sustainability and long term retention of the "good" employees. It's good to know that those of you with a little more experience in the HR management tracks see the struggles that some of us "in the trenches" do.
As for me, I've been fortunate enough that it seems people are noticing my attempts to add value to the organization (even without all the financial lingo) by participating on quality teams and synergy/best practice activities. Now if we can just get that "talent management" piece working, we can be running with all cylinders.
Thanks, Kris, Deb and Jon for paving the way for those of us still learning!
Posted by: Amy | May 22, 2008 at 07:33 PM
I have no clue what world you folks live in but in the past 15 years in HR, I have NEVER planned one company party or event. I've been too busy working with Finance on Stock Admin processes (which THEY don't understand!), Sales Commissions on the fact that they should have written stipulations into the commission plans for when sales get de-booked (now how is the company going to recoup that big payout?!), Benefits Brokers on why I feel they are not providing sufficient service to us on contract negotiations, working with IT on why our Self Service application isn't correctly routing approvals (and testing their recoding), etc.
Your world of HR is definitely not the one I work in if you think HR is the "touchy feelie", "let's plan a party" of years gone by.
Posted by: HR Babe | May 27, 2008 at 01:54 PM
Like Amy, I don't work in that HR world but have to agree that I've seen many that do. Ulrich (one of my gurus) makes the point which Hammonds' in his article "Why We Hate HR" fails to mention - "...effective (workforce)strategy execution requires a partnership between leaders, the worforce and the firm's HR function". When I'm chosing who to work for I make my decision based on how well I perceive the CEO and leadership team to get that point, ie to get that workforce success is a shared accountability, and if managed in that way, will be a source of competitive advantage. That takes managerial courage at all levels, including the HR profession, but certainly not limited to that function - I'm still amazed by how slow some execs are to make the tough calls around people, often to the detriment of their own careers and to the detriment of the business.
I know that my ability to make an impact in the lead people role is influenced by who I work for (and I would never report to the finance guy) and whether or not they view workforce as a strategic differentiator. That often starts with a personal shift at the leadership level, and I have the accountability for providing the evidence of the strong link between people and org'l performance to support that shift. It also takes the CEO raising the bar in terms of what they expect from the lead HR role - you get what you tolerate, after all.
By the way - a general criticism of HR Conferences: wouldn't it be great to see those that run HR conferences adopt the same partnership approach to the way they both structure and run these forums. I'm not that interested in hearing from so-called HR gurus, many of whom seem to be on more of a "personal profile raising" tour (just ask some of the business people working within coys where they claim to have had enormous success); I want to hear from those that are the other half of the partnership - I want to hear from the C level both on what they're looking for (raise the bar) and talking to the impact that a strategically run people function brings to their businesses. The only conference that I've attended that does this is the Human Synergistics conferences (in ANZ). I'd encourage you to take a look at some of the case studies on their website for evidence of how a strategic approach to managing people through a specific focus on cultural factors has impacted the bottom line. Nothing "fluffy" about that!
Posted by: Clare Long | May 28, 2008 at 07:59 PM
After 25 years as an HR practitioner, including executive roles, and several years recently as a Consultant, I completely agree with the observations that most HR folks still don't get it.
I recently presented at an HR conference on Talent Measurement and Workforce Analytics. Some of the feedback I received indicated that folks felt I needed to explain the acronyms I used. These include KPI, NOP, EBITDA, and ERP. How can this be? My audience of 300+ was not comprised of junior people. This is another example of the 'business people (of various disciplines) are from Venus and HR people are from Mars' perspective.
One of the biggest obstacles to advancing evidence-based decision making using talent measurement capability into Human Capital Management (they didn't understand HCM either) is the lack of strong analytical competence in the HR community. And most disappointing is how many of those I encounter are just fine with that. In their minds business is about numbers and HR is about people. They fail to grasp that organizations need the full impact of workforce contribution in order to achieve business success. And that contribution can only be optimized if we understand the business' strategy, measures, critical dependencies, and SWOT (I'll bet they don't understand that acronym either) and design and execute our talent management practices within that context. Otherwise we are spinning our wheels, and wasting our time and everyone else's. Any HR practitioner who doesn't have a strong understanding of business and analytical competence should go get it.
Posted by: Joanne Bintliff-Ritchie | May 29, 2008 at 12:03 PM