HR is a HUB! The Conduit to Success.
Every company is started with a vision. There is always a principal owner or executive who was inspired by an idea, a spark of intuition! And if they are blessed, they in turn evolve that idea into inspiration which evolves into a real life business. And once the business becomes a reality, that is when all the potential problems can begin. Alright, maybe that comes much, much later but honestly, problems do creep up when foundational HR practices are absent. Barriers to progress, to productivity, even drama. The CEO of a company is constantly being pulled in hundreds of directions at the same time if trusted advisers and leaders are not secured. And from what I have witnessed, even securing and on-boarding the right leaders can be a challenge. The constant stress that comes with running a business requires top executives to spend a lot of their days in meetings, and with the growth, the leaders can be pulled further away from the average employee. Yet, the average employee is the fuel to the engine that sustains the passion that initially was that very spark of intuition. That separation can have effects that go beyond the physical. An absent executive will be unable to imprint the spark of inspiration into the work force that has been hired to carry out the initial vision. In the worst examples, the employee is never even told the vision because they are working under a leader that is still seeking their own strategic objectives and measures and may be leading reactively vs. proactively.
This is where strategic HR practices become central to organizational success.
The role of Human Resources varies greatly from business to business. In some places, HR is only responsible for payroll, benefits, and the rest of the stereotypical duties once coined “Personnel Practices”. In other companies, the Human Resources department facilitates talent development for both new and long tenured employees, researching new ways to improve efficiency, yet working to resolve conflict and measure effectiveness. Whatever the scope of the responsibilities all HR professionals have one thing in common: employee contact. Direct employee contact – okay maybe not always but ideally, yes! And if HR is truly fortunate, partnerships with financial leaders can be forged to realize returns on practices formerly regarded as the “soft stuff”, the “fluff”.
HR also has the rare opportunity to also have frequent contact with company executives. In my career, I have worked directly with CEO’s and it takes an objective balance to responsibly honor the complicated role of the trusted advisor to the workforce as well as the trusted advisor to the leadership. In fact, as I have evolved in my own career I found that the more I interfaced with leadership the more I realized how impactful HR can be. As a trusted advisor, a true HR professional can understand the values and motivations behind the eyes of the president or CEO. This creates a special responsibility that all human resources professionals should strive to carry out. That is to relay the sentiments from the top of the company to all the other levels of employees. Not just the why but the how behind success. The passion behind the work.
Employees come from a diverse range of backgrounds and previous working experiences. They all have individual opinions and attitudes towards the workplace. Some of those attitudes, while totally acceptable, may be incongruent with how the CEO of the company believes success can be realized. Often, the employee may not see the heart in the work at all. The problem is that the CEO may never really get to know the employee and may have missed the opportunity to introduce themselves. Often, the communication simply breaks down or is lost in transition or translation. Or, that silly way of doing things may just be the silly way it needs to be done. It just was never explained. Often, there is a method to the madness and when the method is not known, someone needs to ask why?
The great steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie is credited with the idea of vertical integration within an industry. He realized that if one company owned all of the processes that were required in making a product (for Carnegie, this meant owning the mines, the railroads and the factories), money could be saved all along the way, productivity can be increased, and profits can explode. Vertical integration is something that can be used to combine different businesses, but it is also a principle that should be used within a single business. While Carnegie was integrating huge mechanical processes, an individual company must streamline values. An organization can implement different theory principles in organizational design within a single business to optimize performance but communication cannot be sacrificed in the process.
This mandate falls upon the shoulders of HR. Whether it is HR personally or the HR function that trains and supports the leadership to see it through, HR has the ability to streamline a set of values and beliefs to an entire company. How? Well, the values do not come from HR but rather all policy, rewards and corporate communications should be in harmony to support the value system. And the value system should really tie directly back to strategy. Solid value added approaches that measure change in knowledge, skills, abilities, behavior and ideally; business impact. All practices that are held within the HR function.
I found myself in a meeting yesterday where the policy read one thing, the CEO stated another and the leaders likely all interpreted it differently. Thus, they hear it differently throughout the organization. This is where HR must be assertive and yet credible enough to step in, clarify, explain the potential impact and facilitate shared understanding and interpretation. To not assert in witness of such incongruent practices is detrimental to the success of upholding a value system ensuring all employees are provided the opportunity to engage in support of a vision that all understand. Are we doing what we said we do and is it consistently upheld? Incongruent messaging damages credibility and trust within any organization.
With an entire company working together towards a common goal there is no limit to what may be accomplished. But the goal is not the only focal point, it is the way in which we work toward the goal that becomes pivotal. Furthermore, it is the priority of the goal in the overall framework of the business objectives. If HR fails to act as the conduit for which all is interdependent, the central hub if you will, the central part of a wheel, rotating on or with the axle, and from which the spokes radiate – then honestly, the vision, the mission and the leaders risk running in opposite directions. And for HR to be instrumental in facilitating strategies, processes and practices the infrastructure must be satisfied first. For example, there is no point in putting a learning strategy in place to develop talent as a priority for the leadership team prior to ensuring the leadership is capable to manage the primary work with the resources already present. Being able to prioritize the HR strategy in support of the business agenda is critical and without that commitment to excellence, HR transformations cannot be realized as the conduit. Thus, HR must support efficiency in all departments before striving to develop transformational effectiveness. However, to be the conduit you must understand that in smaller organizations you operate to support both and never lose sight that value is defined by the customer. Knowing who your customer is in any given moment is key.