You can tell who is swimming naked when the tide goes out. CEOs who have chosen to make their HR department purely tactical are swimming naked and getting crushed right now – they have only blunt instruments at their disposal – hiring freeze, pay freeze, layoff. (Freezing is not a smart way to survive a threat). A purely tactical HR department does a competent and efficient job with compliance and legal issues, they serve employees and companies with increasingly efficient HR services…and by and large, are uninvolved with major business decisions.
John Sullivan ranted that he “can’t think of another time where human resources as a profession appeared to be floundering to the point where it’s embarrassing itself.” Where was the workforce plan? He sagely makes the point that business is cyclical, why not plan for that? But when I think of the small and midsize employer market, I have a hard time placing the blame squarely on HR. There is also a lack of vision on the part of the CEO.
CEOs who have demanded (and invested in) strategic HR support are getting far better results. They get worthy advice on major decisions. They can use a scalpel to cut low impact items and wisely reallocate scarce resources to the things that matter – the things that have leverage – gaining a multiplier effect. They avoid the idiocy of across the board freezes and instead focus on smart ACTIONS that drive business results. They are avoiding the predictable problems that come from guiding people through change, so productivity soars, and results come faster.
For a brilliant distinction between tactical vs strategic HR, read John Sumser’s post today “Five Things HR Can Do.” It’s brief, practical, clear and concrete. I won’t summarize or explain it, you deserve to read the original. (If you are an HR pro, please follow his instructions, he’s exactly right).
There has been quite a dustup over the latest round of HR bashing – “Why the CFO Can’t Trust HR” – this is counterproductive. It’s not about who is competent and who is not, or who should trust whom. It’s this:
If you run an organization, and you must make a hard decision that involves people, do you have a strategic advisor for that? If you don’t, you are a fool. Go get one.
In the small and midsize employer market, I think many CEOs simply don’t realize that a significant part of their problems are really HR problems and a competent HR strategist could help them every bit as much as a competent CFO can help.