Last week, Ron Ashkenas wrote a piece on Harvard Business Review called, "Stop Bashing HR," in which he discusses why HR is important and how it can add value to an organization. He begins this article with several quotes from HBR readers who expressed a less than favorable view of HR in response to another blog from Brian Hults of Rubbermaid, "Why HR Really Does Add Value." Here is a sample:
"I have yet to see HR add value to any organization."
"[HR] is more often an obstacle that needs to be navigated to complete real business processes."
"The fact that the author essentially advocates turning HR into something that would be called 'strategic planning and integration' is exhibit A as to the complete uselessness of HR..."
These conversations make me laugh. Unfortunately, I don't think this debate over the value of HR will ever end, at least not in the near future. We have HR people (like me) fighting daily for respect, importance, and relevance, while others rely on personal experiences with incompetent and untrustworthy HR professionals to rationalize that all HR is worthless.
It's true that not all HR people are created equal. I know some that personify all those complaints. They're not easy to work with, don't listen, can't relate to their colleagues, and know very little about their organizations.
So, what makes a good HR person? For more than two decades, Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan have studied what knowledge, skills, abilities, and other qualities (also known as competencies) are necessary for someone to be highly successful in the HR field. They have surveyed more than 20,000 individuals from all over the globe on what it "means to be an effective HR professional and how to build an effective HR department."
Ulrich and Brockbank came up with six competencies:
• "Strategic positioners who understand evolving business contexts, stakeholder expectations, and business requirements and translate them into talent, culture, and leadership actions."
• "Credible activists who build relationships of trust and have a clear point of view about how to build business performance."
• "Capability builders who define, audit, and create organization capabilities required for sustainable organizational success."
• "Change champions who initiate and sustain change at the individual, initiative, and institutional levels."
• "HR innovators and integrators who look for new ways to do HR practices and integrate those separate practices to deliver business solutions."
• "Technology proponents who use technology for efficiency, to connect employees, and to leverage new communication channels" (e.g., social media).
If you're a talent manager, take a moment for self reflection around Ulrich and Brockbankof's six competencies. Do you have the knowledge, experience, and know-how to be a strategic partner, activist, build capacity, invoke and sustain change, innovate, integrate, and leverage technology? If the answer is no to one or more of those, you have room for improvement.
If you're responsible for managing talent, how do you integrate the above competencies into a professional growth path? Does your HR evaluation tool measure such competencies? School districts and other organizations looking to hire an HR person should develop tools and processes to screen candidates for these qualities. It's your responsibility to not hire an HR-dud that continues the cycle of bad-HR stereotypes.
As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
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