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The making of an HR consultant

Today we sat in a meeting room from dawn to dusk and filled flip charts with too many thoughts for anyone to remember. At the end we called it a strategy and I was slightly discomforted with the amount of admin work that I see swamping my inbox. The whole conversation kept bringing up the tension in HR between wanting to be make an impact (aka adding value/being strategic) and having to do maintenance and admin. For the last year I have seen the only way forward to step up my own consulting skills and use the few chances that I get. So where do you learn the HR consulting skills you need? Here is what I came up with:

I have mentioned in a previous post that experience and standing is very important in impacting from an HR point. That takes time and, well experience. I was lucky to be linked to some experienced HR folks and tried to learn what I can from them.

Beyond that I have gotten together with some other HR peers that share my view and would like to look beyond. So we put together a CoachingOurselves set for HR. We followed Dave Ulrich’s framework on the role of HR and identified 15 topics that we would like to discuss. It works quiet nice and engages us in some good discussions.

Finally, I asked some business professors that I came across in our strategy trainings what they recommend. Besides coaching skills, they came up with the following reading list:

Peter Blockflawless consulting
This is a great book for the process of consulting and how to cover the various aspects of working as a contractor to solve problems. It took me quite a while to go through it and helped with good advice on various stages.

David Maisterthe trusted advisor
This book addresses the various stages from a relationship angle and shows activities for each of them. It is a good resource for thinking through the various aspects of working with managers.

Barbara MintoThe pyramid principle
Most consultants recommended this book. It talks about how to structure thoughts, problems and presentations and has become invaluable to me. Also a slow read, but very helpful since people appreciate clear thoughts.

Peter Senge – the fifth discipline
I have avoided this one for long now. Too popular so I wondered how good it can be. When it was recommended in this context, people highlighted the systems thinking aspect. I am a big believer in this (“poets are the original system thinkers”) since most problems seem to me systemic in my daily experiences.

This is just a quick starter on the way. The tug between admin and consulting remains, but it might be time to build the skills since chance favors the prepared.

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Filed under: HR Business Partner

peoplesignals vs processsingals – the future of the people business

What will HR look like in 2015? Recently, I came across a small scenario exercise that predicted the future of HR will be determined by the combination of two factors:

  • Dollars or people
  • Outsourcing or not

With these two trends the authors sketched 4 scenarios for HR in 2015:

Scenario One: Say It with Numbers
Assumptions: Organizations are ruthless about demanding a return on their human capital investments. Only the most repetitive, non-value-added transactions are outsourced.

Scenario Two: The Ambassador
Assumptions: Organizations recognize relationships as critical to success. The company holds the reins of most HR functions, and outsourcing is minimal.

Scenario Three: Two Heads Are Better Than One
Assumptions: HR is under pressure to ensure that human capital investments provide a solid return. The use of HR outsourcing has risen significantly.

Scenario Four: Relationships Are a Risky Business
Assumptions: Organizations renew their efforts to capitalize on relationships, both within and external to the business. HR outsourcing is used widely to deliver HR services.

Now, all that sounds to me like a decision whether HR will be a champion of people or process. The processsignal-approach to HR is in search of The Mighty Dashboard, squeezes the dollar on human-ROI and centralizes as much as possible. Low costs are certainly a plus. The question is whether growth can be gained by minimizing costs. The peoplesignal-approach realizes the we live in a liquid world where the best solutions are local and growth is fueled by strategic people investments. It seems that in the last years there was a big emphasize on the process quality of HR. The problem with the Big Master Plan approach to HR was nicely put in a recent study on how to measure an HR strategy:

Every business has its own strategic priorities, with unique HR implications and requirements; we could not identify a meaningful universal “template” for measuring HR’s business contributions.

Why is there no meaningful universal template? Maybe because there can’t be one. HR played too long on the wrong side of the field, the field in search of universal solutions. If Talent Management is mainly seen as a process instead of a relationship then it is no wonder that companies get into a war for talent and can’t control their people costs. Maybe we listened too much to the wrong signals. Maybe it’s time to tune in to more peoplesignals.

Filed under: HR, HR Business Partner

HR Business Partner – what on earth are they here for?

For a couple of years I have been in this role of an HR Business Partner. “Keep line management from escalating and roll out stuff” were the general job descriptions. “Oh, and use your knowledge to solve problems”. I have come to like the job, but have never seen so much self-reflection and discussion on the own job profile. True, HR is prone to that. Maybe it’s the suspicion that we are overhead and overhead is bad. Or that we aren’t quantifiable and that is bad. So what on earth is the value of an HR Business Partner?

Realizing that great administrative processes are commodity, HR came to the conclusion that you need someone to sell the services to line management and solve local problems. So the HR Business Partner needs to earn the trust on local level and understand the pain points of his partners. A recent analysis of job descriptions by the Corporate Leadership Council points out words like: ambassador, implementation, align business and HR strategy. CLC says, usually HR folks are good experts, but not very good at the following crucial skills:

  • Implementation skills (results focus, project management, change management, HR technology proficiency, and vendor management)
  • Business skills (organisational understanding, business/finance/economics/statistics understanding, data analysis, and understanding of global environment impact business).

This whole strategy thing irks me somewhat. It sounds too much like a desperation cry of someone who doesn’t know what is going on. Well, maybe a become strategic. Whenever I see a good HR Business Partner it strikes me that they have a good standing with senior management (personality) and get things done for them (experience).

Dave Ulrich makes the point, that HR comes in as a big chunk of the intangible assets. People are not just a huge part of the payroll but they are what brings companies their income. HR should wear the peoplesignals hat: what is going on at the people side of things? What do we need to do to manage our people assets? The HR Business Partner is best suited to have the ear to the ground and get things done. They should bring the appropriate attention to peoplesignals and provide solutions that work. Most managers are caught up in their daily battle to get things done, so HR BPs bring a deBono-like hat to amplify the human side of things.

Thomas just kicked off a series of show-yourself-HR articles pointing out HR hate, pleading for statistics and asked for risk coverage (others have responded). There seems to be two streams in the arguments:

  • HR, learn statistics so you can prove your point
  • HR, just understand the business and get peoplethings done

While the statistics case is compelling with an air of objectivity, I have not seen enough in action to believe. So an executive sees that pay-per-employee is rising, what now? Time to fill positions too high, action please! I have the feeling this peoplesignals business doesn’t work well when aggregated on an HR-KPI dashboard. Executives like their dashboards, but most actions following a problem on HR-KPIs turn out to be silly KPI-tweaking exercises. Maybe we need smarter KPIs. That would certainly help.
It seems that HR gets more street credit by thinking business and coming up with peoplesolutions that work (not that benchmarked me-too thingy). Lisa Brummel at Microsoft seems to be such a case. Again: credibility and experience. Jack Welch weighs in on this case:

Look, HR should be every company’s “killer app”. What could possibly be more important than who gets hired, developed, promoted or moved out the door? After all, business is a game, and as with all games, the team who puts the best people on the field and gets them playing together, wins. It’s that simple.
Leaders need to put their money where their mouths are and let HR do its real job: elevating people management to the same level of professionalism and integrity as financial management.

HR departments that plan picnics, put out the plant newsletter and generally drive everyone crazy by enforcing rules and regulations that appear to have no purpose other than to increase bureaucracy. They derive the little power they have by being the “You-can’t-do-that” police. So how do leaders fix this mess? It all starts with the people they should be hiring to run HR: not kingmakers or cops but big-leaguers, people with real stature and credibility.

Trust and judgment are really the operative words here. Those traits are what being a great HR practitioner is all about. To be truly effective in any HR leadership role, people in the organization must believe you have unfailing integrity.

HR needs to be the Business Partner to amplify the peoplesignals on the company agenda. If they do, the benefits will be beyond KPIs.

Filed under: HR, HR Business Partner