The crux of the argument behind those statements is: “What is the role of HR? Where and how can HR make the most difference for the organization?”
And those are important conversations. Just yesterday, Harvard Business Review featured a discussion with Randy MacDonald, senior vice president of HR at IBM since 2000, and his beliefs that the HR function was too focused on administration.
"I have a fundamental belief that it's important to decide what is core and non-core. Administrative responsibilities, such as getting paychecks out on time, are not core. Attracting, retaining, and motivating employees are all core. In HR, we need to focus on what is important and get out in front of issues — not just be reactive. HR should look at the direction of the company and say, 'We need to be here right along with the business.'"
Now, most employees I know would say that getting their paycheck on time is central to their motivation and desire to remain with the organization. And I don’t think Mr. MacDonald is arguing that it is not. Rather, he is pushing HR to change IBM – at the individual employee level. These are three steps Mr. MacDonald had led to that end (quoting from the article):
- Delivered the new skills IBM needed at the front lines. HR reinvented the way it trained and developed talent.
- Fostered global teamwork. Randy MacDonald: “Over the past decade we moved from a multinational organization to a globally integrated enterprise with global standard processes.”
- Created a results-focused culture. HR can play a lynchpin role in building a performance culture: defining, collecting and analyzing data to understand whether employees are meeting their personal goals.
Training and development, teamwork, performance management – these are three approaches many consider core to HR, perhaps even “administrative” functions. But Mr. MacDonald and his team at IBM have elevated them far beyond “administrative” to truly strategic in that these functions now transform the culture of the organization, helping IBM “absorb more than 125 acquisitions since 2000, and integrate globally, saving $6 billion since 2005.”
When you have that kind of impact, what does it matter if you have a “seat at the table?”
As the new year kicks off amid news of an improving economy and jobs market, it would be wise for HR leaders to look at their “core” and “administrative” function through a new lens of company culture and strategy.
What are some of the tactical roles you or your HR team focus on today? Are you delivering at a strategic or administrative level? How could you adapt or change these functions to drive the culture of your organization?
As Globoforce’s Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. His articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.