There is no way to put this delicately: HR has an image problem.
Why We No Longer Need HR Departments — Bernard Marr’s rather famous LinkedIn post — received over 704,375 views and 3,635 comments. As the author explained in a follow-up post, he was surprised at the volume of HR hater comments the post generated. After all, his intent was to help — not bash — HR:
“People from the top of the organization right through to the front line were saying how much they hated HR. Many comments said that HR is an unnecessary waste of money, should be outsourced, and that losing it would finally stop all the stupid questionnaires and bureaucratic performance assessment exercises.”
It seems that the same kind of “HR is good for nothing” sentiment expressed in The Article That Will Not Be Named is still running rampant in some circles. (Okay, I’ll drop the cloak and daggers — I’m referring to the infamous Fast Company Why We Hate HR article from 2005.) In fact, in a recent opinion posted on Forbes, the sentiment was repeated.
But HR is fighting back.
Laurie Ruettimann (creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR, which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women) recently published an e-book called I Am HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR. Her site explains that the book “gives research, case studies and real world examples of men and women who work in human resources and break stereotypes all day long.”
I have also met many razor-sharp HR execs who have great stories from the trenches — stories showing how they overcame hurdles to emerge as respected leaders who are sought-after by CEOs and other executives.
Here are three examples of great HR leaders who demonstrate what “the new” HR is really about. They emulate how business-linked HR will turn the tide of executive — and public — perception:
The HR Problem Solver Who Leaned In and Exceeded the CEO’s Expectations
One inspiring leader is Gabrielle Toledano, Executive Vice President of HR for Electronic Arts. As she wrote in this Lean In article, when she first got the offer to become the global head of HR at a major public company, she was a little hesitant to take on the new job. But as it turned out, taking this stretch role really paid off:
“There are a few emails that I have kept over my career. One that I received after meeting Steve Jobs will never be deleted. Another was from the CEO of this new company. In my first month on the job, when we were dealing with difficult operating expense cuts affecting some employees, the CEO sent me an email that said, ‘I am impressed beyond expectations with your leadership. Thank you for joining our team.’ It felt amazing to have risen to the challenge and to be recognized for adding value.”
The Talent Warrior Who Steered LinkedIn Through 700% Growth
We are all familiar with LinkedIn as a valuable resource for recruiters — but what about the challenges the company overcame itself with recruiting? As LinkedIn’s former VP of Talent (Steve Cadigan) described in this article, even though the economy was recovering from an ugly recession in 2009, LinkedIn was still in a highly competitive hiring market, especially for engineering roles:
“…no one had heard of us. Facebook was hiring like crazy and [was] in this big war with Google. Google was giving million-dollar retention bonuses.”
Cadigan’s team fought the talent war on several fronts, boosting employer branding, mobilizing the recruitment forces, and continually looking at data to tweak and improve their processes. The result? The numbers speak for themselves: LinkedIn went from 400 to 3000 employees in only 3 years.
The HR Change Agent Who Warmed the CEO’s Heart With Cold, Hard Numbers
Industry observers say one reason HR has taken a backseat is because it hasn’t spoken the language of business: numbers. But that is changing with the rise of applied big data, which puts the numbers in the hands of HR.
I recently spoke with an HR leader about how he helped the CEO of his global corporation find more savings than the head of Finance did. He told me this story of how his numbers-based workforce insights proved to be crucial when his company was looking for cost savings:
“One Saturday the CEO got key business leaders into a room and said: ‘I need all of you to come up with ideas for how we are going to save on costs.’ I suggested that we take a data-driven approach to workforce planning. I showed how a small improvement in this area could lead to millions in bottom line savings. The CEO ended up selecting my idea.”
This solution was not about finding positions to terminate. It was about taking a data-driven approach to workforce planning to ensure compensation was better optimized, hiring plans were more accurate, and key roles and top talent were pro-actively retained. The result was that the bottom-line boosting solution came from HR, not Finance.
All of these stories show just how integral HR can be to business success. And data-driven CEOs and CHROs are taking note. They are increasingly arming their HR teams with technology solutions that help them to talk in terms the business understands, to partner their experience (intuition) with the numbers (fact), and to develop workforce plans that are rooted in an in-depth understanding of where the organization has been and where it needs to go. According to analyst firm Bersin by Deloitte, over 90% of companies they surveyed are planning to replace their HRIS in the next 18 months, and one of the top reasons is the need for better analytics and reporting.
As one HR leader told me recently, it’s not about learning how HR can “get a seat” at the table, it’s about understanding how HR can “own” the table.
Do you know someone in HR who is debunking the stereotype with their business savvy? We want to hear about it. Share a comment on our blog.