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For years, members of my profession — human resources — have aspired to become “strategic.” Yes, we want a seat at the table, the respect of the C-Suite and an opportunity to make a difference. And over the years, very respected names in business have theorized and proposed models to help us get there.

Yet here we are in 2015, and it just doesn't seem like we've made much progress. Deloitte's 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report surveyed both HR practitioners and business leaders on HR's overall performance. HR professionals graded themselves C- (1.65 on a five-point scale), but what boggles my mind is that business leaders gave HR a D+ (1.32 on a five-point scale).

Yikes. HR is not proud of the work we are doing, but perhaps even worse is that HR is not doing the work that the C-Suite thinks is necessary. In addition, the Deloitte study found that 40 percent of CHROs are now coming from departments outside of HR — which certainly jeopardizes the concept of HR career paths.

HR needs a committed and collaborative partnership with the C-Suite in order to succeed. Here's how that might work.

Start With the End in Mind

Focus on growing revenue, income or market share, or reducing expense. That's what really matters. If the work that HR leaders and employees are doing cannot be tied directly to these metrics, stop doing it.

Demand Evidence-based Proposals

Research abounds these days that links specific behaviors directly to outcomes.  Leaders must work together with HR to identify the root cause of behaviors that are not supporting the business, and correct them.

Organizational success is all about behavior. Employees' behavior either propels progress, or impedes it. Leaders' behavior either encourages employee performance, or derails it. By knowing exactly what behaviors are derailing success, HR and the C-suite can devise a plan to shift behavior.

Here’s an example. A business unit leader argues that she cannot attract talent because of the salaries that HR has prescribed and asks for an upgrade. That’s an immediate and long-term cost, so it’s important to make sure the “fix” will work. A closer look at data says that there has been escalating turnover in that unit, and that their employee engagement scores are trending down. An investigation into the root cause leads to the fact that the behavior of the leader is ineffective and therefore leading to a disengaged workforce. A raise in pay won’t fix engagement, but a change in leadership style will.

Continuously Measure Results

Shifting behavior of an organization is like making a high-speed turn on an ocean liner; it is dangerous to move too quickly. It is a slow process, and one that has to evolve over time. Let’s say HR and the leader agree that the unit manager described above would benefit from a leadership development plan, including formal learning, mentorship and coaching.

Set a time to ask, “Did the behavior change, and does that yield the result we want?” This has to be a collaborative partnership, where the results can be assessed, and the plan tweaked as needed. Again, the results have to tie to the basic business metrics — revenue, income, market share or expenses.

Focus on Culture Over Compliance

HR is fraught with risk. But most of the legislation and regulations were created because leaders were not treating employees fairly and equally: gender discrimination in pay, judgment against disabilities and terminations based on anything other than documented performance has perpetuated over the years. Legislators sought to fix that, and here we are today strangled with regulatory compliance.

Instead, HR needs to work with the C-Suite to clearly outline what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, and to hold operational leaders accountable for fair and equitable treatment of employees. A positive top-down culture, not compliance, will create an engaged and committed workforce.  

Educate Managers

Sometimes programs that are devised to shape leader and employee behavior seem overly burdensome. Performance management is a great example. The purpose of such a program is to create an ongoing dialogue between managers and employees that will continuously improve performance, help the employee grow and learn and successfully achieve operational goals.

But managers often grumble about this process and call it a time waster. Perhaps they just don't understand how important it is to connect effectively with their employees. The C-Suite needs to exert their influence. If the performance review process really does waste time, change it, but if the leaders just don't “get it,” help them.

HR Is Leadership's Responsibility

Shaping human behavior is a joint responsibility of HR and the C-Suite. If the C-Suite wants to grow revenue, income and market share, or reduce expenses, they have to engage a committed workforce to do exactly what needs to be done, and create a cadre of managers that knows how to lead people.

HR can devise the framework to make this happen, but it is only through the collaboration and support of the C-Suite that it can all come together to create organizational success.​

Photo: Shutterstock