HR Strategy

Why the CFO said HR was easy to learn

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Photo credit: Wei Xuan Seow – flickr

I recently co-facilitated a discussion forum between a group of CFO’s and CHRO’s on the importance of their relationship in building business value. During a question on what skills each other should build to understand the other role, an attending CFO said “It would be easy for a CFO to learn HR, but not the reverse”.

There was stunned silence from the room as the heat rose from the attending CHRO’s – they weren’t sure if they had just been told they were less capable, less intelligent or simply would never be considered an “equal” to the power and status of a CFO.

Was the CFO correct?

From the perspective of: CFO right or wrong?
Education and qualifications: Both roles are considered specialist functions which have underlying professional adherence. The CFO learns to comply, manage and manipulate a set of globally defined rules to legally reflect the financial value of their organization. The CHRO complies with medical ethical standards related to psychology and social science practices. Both qualifications are professionally recognized and offer advanced degrees to support this. WRONG
Complexity of the role. At the basic level, CFO’s take their guidance from GAAP and legislation in terms of how they execute the outcomes of their role. They are generally instrumental in guiding the organization in terms of maximising financial value, reducing and effectively managing cost, effective use of capital, maintaining investment community confidence through accurate reporting, analysing financial risk and proposing corrective actions. The CHRO has different complexities to deal with as “people” and society are well, people. Rules for people are less defined or prescriptive. CHRO’s who don’t operate as administrators can juggle 40+ different interrelated elements across people, process, organization, legislation, technology and governance to create business value through people. WRONG
Perception: The CFO is typically regarded as highly important, particularly for listed companies – mainly because their outputs reflect the success of the CEO and other executives, and the consequences of anything untoward in financial outputs could result in serious organizational and personal ramifications. In many organizations, HR is often perceived as an Administrative function with little clout at the C-Level. This is often true when HR has low levels of Maturity and spend most of their time executing operational transactions. In most cases this would be easy to learn. RIGHT

 

So the CFO was both right and wrong, but we should be cautious to blame the CFO for his views. We can assume that in this case, the HR leaders the CFO has interacted with have probably been of a lower maturity level, more administratively focused and had executive leadership who have yet to realize the importance and value of Human Capital  from a shareholder perspective.

For a CHRO or CFO to really learn each others jobs would not be easy. Yes, you could easily learn the stuff like administration and basic accounting, but the underlying knowledge is far more complex than meets the eye.

How does your CFO view HR?

 

Has Technology Weakened HR?

Picture: 周小逸 Ian : Flickr
12 May 2016

This seems somewhat of an odd statement to make in todays technology obsessed world – surely HR technology has allowed People practitioners to greatly improve efficiency by reducing manual and paper-based activities, improving data access & reporting, reducing errors, helping employees make better decisions and ensuring compliance to policy and procedure.

This is of course true at a transaction level, but herein lies the problem. The way vendors have generally designed HR technology is not an accurate reflection of how professional HR and Talent managers think, nor does it signal an understanding of the complexities in Professional HR Management. In fact the slicing-up of HR into different software modules along ‘logic’ and ‘transaction’ lines of thinking has created and perpetuates the view that HR is simply a set of somewhat loosely interrelated basic transactions.

And surely that can’t be too difficult to get right! ah, yeah!  But yet time and time again we see HR functions under attack for poor performance and low value contribution. With these perceptions abound, no wonder there is doubt among some C-levels that HR is needed.

If only HR Management was so simple and logical. But it isn’t. There are a significant amount of people dimensions used by HR professionals which are not logically inclined or lend themselves to be developed into a ‘transaction’, let alone a software module. Think about important people management facets such as ‘Ethics’ , ‘Style’, ‘Diversity’ and ‘Values’ – these are key HR influences in achieving particular strategic business outcomes, and they are fundamentally intertwined into such things as learning, performance, development, communication and knowledge sharing. But they are ‘non-existing pieces’ in the HR software puzzle.

This is not a jibe at HR Software vendors. In fact some vendors clearly understand the impact of these gaps and are working hard to address them. Particularly those vendors who are focused on superior technical integration between modules.

They realize that while they have in many cases reduced HR to modular transactions to make it easy for end users, they also understand that the all-important ‘HR complexity value factor’ is partly resolved when effective and seamless integration across these modules occurs. The combination of modular interaction offers some support in achieving strategic HR objectives. Keep going vendors, there is lots more to do in this space!

HR Technology has inadvertently contributed to a weakening of professional HR outputs, but the finger should however point directly at the HR leader who has allowed the function to be reduced to a set of modules and transactions.

It’s an easy way out for poor performing HR leaders, and provides an opportunity to shift the blame onto technology. Professional HR management is not an easy job, in fact it is highly complex, with over 40 major elements or activities being continuously juggled to produce desired business outputs. Those that are successful also understand how HR technology should be used and positioned to enable people to achieve great things.

Do you have an opinion on this?

So HR is imperfect!, but so is mathematics – get over it!

photo credit: All rights reserved by shellydelight – Flikr

updated March 2016

It started as a jovial discussion with some office colleagues about the “Meaning of Life” – that yet unanswered question which has plagued human kind since the beginning of our existence. Naturally we considered all unconventional opinions such as that of Monty Python,

“Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,

“The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything = 42”

and to the more serious, such as concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl’s resolve to  “Having a sense of purpose that keeps your eyes on meaningful goals ahead” and general theological views which purport “To love and serve your god, and love and serve others”

But it didn’t take long before the flavour of the conversation became focussed on People…. more so the people in the workforce. We found ourselves asking a singular and fundamental question:

“WHY DOES HR EXIST?”

It’s a profound question that may have been asked before, but probably not simply answered.

In trying to answer the question our natural HR instincts lead us to describe HR activities – you know, the tons of things HR gets involved with in-between “Hiring & Firing” such as recruitment, talent development, learning, administration, workforce planning, comp & benefits, strategy etc. We raised our discussion to a “People Impact” and “Value through people” view which got us a little closer, but we were still unable to reach consensus on the proverbial question.

I reached out to my good mate Lyle Cooper, who likes to ponder difficult HR questions. He reminded me that “No person has been able to absolutely define and therefore control human behaviour”- he makes it a life-rule to run as fast as he can from anyone who claims to have a definitive answer about people, culture, life, afterlife etc.

Lyle’s point really goes to the heart of social (or human) sciences, the basis for much of what HR does, in that they are not perfect sciences. No matter how hard we try, we are not going to create the perfect performance management environment, a perfect engagement model or the ultimate user experience.

And it was this point that reminded me of the ongoing debate among mathematicians about the answer to the mathematical statement 00 (zero raised to the power of zero). The arguments as to whether the answer is 1(one), 0(zero) or indeterminate are excruciatingly painful to read and understand (especially if you are not a mathematician like me).

But while there are extreme views, most mathematicians agree  that  00 = 1 is preferable, as it is more useful than the alternative choices, leading to simpler theorems, or feeling more “natural” to mathematicians.

“The choice is not “right”, it is merely nice”, is resoundingly similar to the “lack-of-evidence” and “soft & fluffy” disputes HR finds itself embroiled in.

So, while not perfect in any way, my response to the question “WHY DOES HR EXIST?” is “00. It fits perfectly with mathematician’s dilemma.   Business functions and HR professionals are unlikely to ever agree on a common reason for HR’s existence, but by accepting 00  = 1, HR professionals are able to move forward. HR will make validity concessions, builds faulty frameworks, creates imperfect processes and design software to support an imperfect business environment – and that’s okay!

One day we may find that much of what HR is doing is wrong, in the same way many mathematical assumptions may be questioned if and when someone conclusively proves what the answer to 00 is. But until it’s proved otherwise, let HR execute its stuff…its time to stop focusing on the equation!

HR is imperfect!, but so is mathematics (and therefor finance, procurement and operations management) – the next time someone challenges  your HR framework, assumptions or software choices, be sure to remind them that the meaning of HR = 00.

Rob Scott is the Global Lead: HR Strategy and Innovation for Presence of IT, A global HR,Talent, Payroll and WFM consultancy.

Is WFM becoming the new HR?

For many years HR practitioners have been fighting among themselves and with their executive management about the value and importance of HR, Talent management and HR technology. It’s often been an ugly and public battle of personal believes and experience rather than factual and evidence based findings. What’s more, HR people have very strong opinions about being the people behavioural experts and find it very displeasing when they are challenged in this area of how to best manage people in an organization.

Coupled with this is the lack of a clear relationship between HR and company profits and value. Certainly most of the operations people I have met, don’t fully understand the value link that HR purports to have, and often are following processes which HR drives (e.g. Performance management, Goal setting and Career planning) from a compliance perspective rather than a clear business value perspective. While I have no doubt that professional HR has got lots of value to offer, in the most, these departments are too keen to adopt the ‘next flavour of the month’, implement someone else’s ‘best practice’ and expect line managers to love their technology solutions that mostly make the HR’s departments life easier, but are often seen as extra work for the operations and line managers.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s not all doom and gloom…..someone has been listening and doing something about it.

Unfortunately it’s not the general HR fraternity, but rather Operations managers and WFM vendors. After years of experiencing the effects of HR’s ongoing battle with itself, Ops managers have decided to ‘just get on with it’ and are enhancing and using WFM people solutions that are linked directly to the P&L account, have the ability to show exactly where money is being spent, can use real-time data to enhance business decisions and in the process, engage with their employees and optimize productivity – just what the executives ordered!. And as business leaders continue to drive out unnecessary cost and increase productivity, the business cases behind these new WFM tools is simple. Quite often they can easily save an organisation a minimum of 1-2% on annual employee costs and can generate a return on investment (ROI) in months.

All this is quietly happening while HR continues to argue among themselves and promise their organisations that {insert your favourite HR fad here} will change the world.

In some cases HR has ownership of WFM tools, but mostly they are not the primary owners, but rather have a secondary role ensuring the accuracy of data flows between HR, Payroll and the WFM solutions. Many in HR may be thinking the core of a WFM solution is nothing different from the Time management functionality in their HR system which provides scheduling and rostering capability. While there are many similarities between HR and WFM solutions, over the last 5 years the complexity around awards and labour agreement interpretation, as well as the need to plan and optimize people, assets, geo-location, customer needs and competitive business strategies, has seen the explosion of specialist functionality in WFM tools that would not easily be replicated in HR solutions, especially newer SaaS based HR software.

And while HR is demanding to be the source of truth for all things people, but never quite getting the alignment with day-to-day business practices right, WFM vendors saw the gap to add functionality into their software that has traditionally been the domain of HR and Talent systems. It’s now pretty common to see WFM software solutions with Employee self-service (ESS) capability, Mobility, Leave & absence management, Competency & skills management, Employee costing & budgeting management, Planned versus actual task management (goal setting) and even Engagement capability which support team or individual recognition (often using gamification), shift swapping based on personal needs and survey capability to highlight how staff are feeling about their assigned rosters and work assignments.

What WFM solutions are achieving in the people management space is nothing short of amazing – HR is envious! The reason it’s so successful is the seamless integration with operations management activities. And it doesn’t stop there. Modern WFM tools are branching out and building links and capability to Planned-maintenance, Sales & forecasting, Contingent labour management and Financial management solutions.

In many respects WFM is winning the people effectiveness battle at the operations level. Some WFM vendors are not stopping their advancement into HR’s space either with a number of HR and Payroll acquisitions by WFM vendors taking place recently. Perhaps it is WFM that will become the new HR, at least at the operating and tactical level, leaving the strategic people activities to the current HR functions. Watch this space.

Thanks to Shane Granger @gmggranger for promting the idea over the week-end

The rise of the SMATE

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Photo Credit – amanda.murphy4 – Flickr

There are times in our recent history where particular events have epitomized the turning-point in global views, perceptions and behaviors ~ like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the “Cold War”, the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid, 9-11 and the rise of terrorism, 2008 and the Global Financial Crisis. These events cause “global ripples” and while many people are impacted directly, there are many more people that feel the change in indirect ways. For HR, a turning-point has been Cloud & SaaS solutions, taking center stage in late 2012 – the direct impact is on HR departments from an empowerment perspective, but the real value impact is achieving organisational goals through people.

HR Cloud and SaaS solutions are fundamentally shifting and empowering the HR environment, putting HR in a renewed position to influence organisational objectives and create value through people. But these new solutions are vastly different from the typical ERP products that dominated for decades, and the individuals who became the “life-savers” or “Stars” for those projects were just that because of their experience and insight into managing complex technology tools. They were the technical experts who dominated workshops and discussions to figure out how to set up the HR solution technically.

The latest cloud and SaaS solutions require significantly less technical prowess, and with this we see the client conversation shifting from “how to best configure the software ?” to a more HR flavored discussion of “how do I create value through people ?”. This shift in discussion from technical to people may be easily overlooked, but is more fundamental and deserves greater consideration than perhaps one may think.

HR leaders are starting to take genuine ownership of cloud HR system projects because they are now able to have discussions which are not being dominated by the technology questions (which were all very important by the way) nor left feeling inadequate to contribute in workshops that were driven by the “Technology Stars” using a language and approach which was foreign to them. In HR Cloud and SaaS projects, HR owners will rightly have a different expectation of the project language, approach and outcomes. Cloud and SaaS has lifted the technology complexity for HR and this will spur them on to want to discuss the HR “How” rather than the Technology “How” – the big question is who is best positioned to lead this new discussion with HR….enter the SMATE.

This new discussion with clients and team members will require someone quite unique – an HR SMATE, or an HR Subject Matter & Technology Expert. Many current HR system consultants may be inclined to assume they are a SMATE by virtue of their closeness to HR technology, but the reality is that a true SMATE is a bit like hens teeth – pretty rare at the moment! While many technology educated people have worked in HR systems for years, their point of reference for HR and best practice is mostly framed by the HR technology they know so well – their discussions with an HR professional has been fairly process and system oriented, and most HR professionals will quickly pick up the lack of depth in HR expertise. Likewise many HR people have a mindset about technology that doesn’t go far beyond the UI (user interface) and get lost in discussions on architecture, object management, databases and interfacing. This is frustrating for technology people who understand the critical nature of these discussions to the solution outcome.

HR ERP implementations primarily needed to lead with a technology mind-set ~ the individuals could learn HR/Talent processes to support discussions. It hasn’t however been easy to motivate an HR trained person to learn technology at a level that would enable adequate discussion across coding, configuration and architecture. But cloud and SaaS HR solutions changed that with technical requirements becoming more system set-up (We however still need hardcore techies for integration and custom developments). In a very short period of time HR professionals can learn the ins-and-outs of a cloud tool set-up and confidently introduce these requirements into an HR discussion, The tide has turned and it is easier for an HR professional to become a true SMATE than for a technology oriented person to do so.

We need true SMATE’s to rise up and become the catalyst for new system discussions with HR executives and project owners. To become the driver behind HR/Talent systems delivering value beyond transactional activity. SMATE’s will engage in deep-dive conversations around people behavior and social science thinking in the same way technology people drove technical discussions during ERP projects. Where this happens, we will see greater HR successes.

The organizations and consulting firms that nurture HR SMATE’s will be putting themselves in a strong position to create true HR value and help HR functions become a significant contributor to their organisational goal achievement  – the true HR SMATE is the next HR system “star”

Influence vs Environment : an HR Employee Value Proposition

I’ve never done it before! – sat on an idyllic beach, looking out over the deep blue sea, working on my laptop. Well her e I am in the 5 star Hilton Hotel in Kuwait, sitting under an Arabian tent, scattered with Persian carpets and low, comfy couches, looking out over the calm Gulf waters, intermittently spoilt by a large oil tanker passing by (and reminding me of the riches of this region)

Amazingly I’m not on Holiday either – but have a few hours to waste before heading off to the airport for my 15 hour flight back to Sydney. All of this got me thinking about the importance of the work environment – Here I am being highly productive (done 2 presentations, answered some mails, reviewed a client document and managed to write this blog), spurred on by something that is causing me to feel almost euphoric . Would I have got so much done at the office? – Definitely not- too many distractions and people. Would I have done as much sitting at my home office – More than the work office probably, but still would not have felt as relaxed and keen to do more as I am at the moment.

If I were a Talent director, considering my Employee Value Proposition, then recreating this relaxing influence (note I said influence, not environment) would be a real winner. Imagine having staff feeling so relaxed and highly productive – the creativity and energy would be mind boggling.

We’ve all heard about the Google work environment – is this an example of a relaxing influence (which is what I am experiencing) or a relaxed environment (spatially inviting and culturally aligned to a sense of freedom). I think the two (influence and environment) are different, although I concede that the immediate environment has an important role. Knowing a few people who work at Google – they love their work environment, but after the mystique fades, they are not significantly less stressed or more productive that people I know who work in highly structured and rigid organisations.

Perhaps this has been a moment in my life that “The Planets all Aligned”; I hope this is not the case, because I would love to have this happen to me every day. I don’t know the whole answer, but perhaps it has something to do with me being able to create an experience that suited me – maybe organisations need to provide a framework for operating that allows people to create their own experience. Food for thought – I do know that next time I’m in Kuwait – I’ll be back under my tent with my laptop.

The Future of HR Technology

About 8 years ago I presented a paper on what HR technology would have to support over the following 10 years ~ with great excitement I developed 5 critical areas that would be critical to HR’s survival, and to a large extent most of those did materialise (The only one that did’nt was my view that smart-card technology would play a bigger part in HR systems), nevertheless the point I am making is that the HR technology future was pretty clear back then because 10 years ago it was about optimising the operational side on HR technology. Back then Peoplesoft was the ERP system and was a leader in the field, with SAP and Oracle trailing in the dust. They eventually all caught up and are pretty much on an equal footing now. These systems as well as other great standalone HR/Payroll tools did help reposition HR to become excellent administrators (granted many system implementation were flops ~ but that’s a people issue).But with the current hype to improve HR’s value contribution to the business and reposition itself as a strategic player, I find myself contemplating the role that HR software will play in achieving this. What will HR systems need to support over the next 8-10 years.Of course the short term (2 years) improvement areas are pretty obvious, things such as more robust Talent Management tools, improved and integrated Strategic Workforce Planning tools, integration of Enterprise 2.0 tools to facilitate networking and more sophisticated Outsourcing components off the back of your own HR software (eg. plugging your SAP system onto a payroll outsourcer payroll engine.To a large extent though, these short term improvements are really more of the same ~ all of the reputable HR systems have to some extent components of these requirements (except Web 2.0), and will continually enhance them over time to suite their customer demands. But surely there must be be something more fundamental required to support a Strategic HR department, something beyond simply saying we will provide more sophisticated reporting, (slice-and-dice , drill down etc), because these sort of things may help, but won’t make a significant change.Understanding the strategic HR department of the future, may give some insight into the tools they will need. The Strategic HR department of the future will be less focused on the administration of people (in fact I foresee that HR admin will be removed from HR departments of the future to form part of a combined HR/Finance/other call centre and shared services team) and will focus on being a measurable component of the success (or failure) of an organisation. The CEO will want to know what % the HR department is contributing to shareholder value in a clear and unambiguous manner ~ just as he does of other departments. In order to achieve this, HR will need to become far more clear about how to measure their contributions and will definitely need a different level of sophistication in its tools to achieve this. No longer will a CEO accept that training turnout was 98%, unapproved absence was down to 2%, turnover was stable at 15% and so on, because these measures are meaningless and open to hours of useless debate about their relevance. No in future HR will need to be accountable to absolute specifics ~ The CEO will make (for example) HR accountable for 3 of the 16% growth in net profit over the next 2 years, accountable for 10% of the savings required from marginal operations and 18% for the effectiveness of the next M&A.

A few gasps of air, I hear being taken by concerned HR directors…. but here is the deal, you cannot be a strategic playing in today’s organisations without being accountable for the success (or failure) of the organisation. HR cannot be the fence sitter or referee anymore if they claim to want a strategic status.

Anyway back to the point on HRIS ~ HR will need a new set of tools that allow it to cascade a business strategy more eloquently into an HR strategy that is measurable, it goes beyond a balanced score-card, its lends itself to a new level of sophistication.

More to follow, but your thoughts are welcome.