Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Employee as the "Person of the Year"

This time of year, we all see various publications announcing; person of the year, best places to work for the year, car of the year, book of the year, and record/entertainer of the year. The list goes on and on. I would like to honor and nominate the employee as the person of the year. An honorable mention would go to HR. This intersection of people and HR is a noteworthy combination. Why, because they are both linked at the hip. The economic downturn has affected both in such a way that it will forever change the dynamics of this pair. Employees have been decimated during this long downturn and HR was on the front line of this assault. Employees will never be the same as well as human resources. The employees that were laid off and the ones that are left have both lost faith, trust and the link between their organizations have been broken. Countless number of people have lost jobs, had careers stalled and their lives upended. This has affected a group that is often referred to as the “greatest asset” in an organization.

There were some companies that were laudable in the way they faced this upheaval over the last few years. However, some caused you to wonder what they were thinking? In a lot of cases, we were missing in action. If we were not driving this process we should have been. Were we involved from the beginning? On reflection, could we have done a better job? Our workforce plan/strategic plan that were so carefully crafted may not have been as effective and insightful as they could have been. Was the process done in one carefully crafted plan or did it drag on with multiple layoffs? Did we communicate it properly or did we have the workforce wondering when and who would be next? Numerous companies have had their brand permanently damaged as a result.

At this time of year, we all or at least we should reflect on our lives, family, relationships and careers among other facets of life. Employees and HR has gone through the wringer to say the least. This recession has without a doubt been one of the most difficult years ever for HR. Restructuring, downsizing and all the other words used to describe layoffs have all had a devastating impact on our chosen profession. With less than one-third of U.S. employees engaged, according to both Gallup and Towers Perrin, the upside is significant. We have witnessed, partnered and in a lot of cases felt the impact directly. The employees that survived are in a lot of cases no better off than the ones that were let go, other than a paycheck. Any engagement and trust that was so carefully developed over the years is now just a shadow of itself.

While this time of year is supposed to be a time of reflection, I wonder what we as HR people are reflecting upon:
• So what do we do now?
• What is our New Year’s resolution?
• How did we do last year?
• Are we satisfied with our department and the initiatives that we developed?
• How are we going to rebuild trust and engagement?
• How are we going to rebuild our careers?
• How are we going to bring new folks into the organization and get them to buy into our brand?
• What are our plans going forward to tackle engagement, talent management, workforce planning, strategic plans and other initiatives?
• How is the social media phenomenon going to affect the way that we recruit/engage and develop employees?
• How can HR usher in social media as part of our people strategy?

In a profession as challenging as human resources, honest self-reflection is the starting point. We must regularly examine what has worked and what hasn't in our companies. This will prove to be painful in a lot of cases. Why, because sometimes it is painful to look in the mirror.

I recently read a discussion on the “Job Board”, which is a LinkedIn group. The discussion question was "Things that the recruiter, HR or hiring manager do/don't do which tick you off." There was an astounding 363 comments at last check. The amount of negative comments concerning HR and specifically recruiting was astounding to say the least. Recruiting is the first step or cornerstone of any people strategy. Once you read this discussion it is apparent that we have failed on that point. The “spirited” comments about treatment by the hand of HR, hiring managers and recruiting were just mind boggling. It has saddened me that our profession has fallen so low. While this response rate was not scientific, it is disheartening if this is the view of our department. As I read this discussion, I thought about the Rorschach test, which is used by psychologists to examine the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of their patients. The theory behind the test is that the test taker's spontaneous or unrehearsed responses to a set of flash cards. If one of those flash cards said "Human Resources", what would be the response from our employees? I don't think that at this stage of the turbulence in the workforce we would be surprised by the answers.

Our profession is severely broken. As we head into the 21st Century, we are facing challenges that we have never faced before. We need to change the perception of HR and more importantly be looked upon as the driver of the people challenge. Remember that value is determined by the receiver. If we are in charge of that most important asset then we should be driving the people challenge. Think marketing, finance and sales, they all strategically drive their perspective domain. They are all connected "directly" into the framework and strategy of their organization.

As we prepare for what I will call "the year of HR", we must position our department so that our colleagues in senior management realize the value and full impact of how people strategies contribute to the business. We need to connect to each senior level executive and relate our function’s activities to his/her strategic imperatives. One of the unique opportunities about being in HR is that our responsibilities infiltrate every aspect of the business. Why? Because it takes talent to get the job done. As stated earlier, the collective talent of our workforces is the only sustainable differentiator that will provide a competitive advantage over time.

With this in mind, the 21st century version of HR should be a decade when companies look to us as an in-house consultancy that provides and delivers on key people strategies. Engagement and talent management should take on an urgency as we prepare to develop the next generation Talent management specifically should become a board-level issue because the future of our companies will be based on the success of people in the organization. There should be a sense of urgency to build a culture of a high performance and engaged workforce. Companies spend so much time and money to better understand their customers and they should be just as diligent in understanding and examining the workforce. The same principle applies.

HR this is our decade, the past few years has affected us all. More importantly it has affected your workforce. This is our domain. If we can't get that seat at the table now, we might as well go back to calling ourselves the Personnel Department. Reflection should be the starting point

Happy New Year

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