HR has largely earned some respect after being offered a seat at the strategic table. This offer required that HR leaders brought strategic thinking to bear on people management issues at executive meetings and in the boardroom; a challenging responsibility, but observation proves that the profession has risen to the occasion. What next, then? After proffering strategic advice to operational, tactical and financial leaders on how to maximise value through effective and efficient Human Capital Management, where does HR move to next?

In the words of revered HR guru, Dr. David Ulrich, “HR should be measured not by what it does but by what it delivers – real, measurable value to businesses.”As policy advisors and strategy architects, HR professionals have helped shape direction. They have offered advice on business implications, purely from an HR perspective. For instance, an HR professional would advise an executive committee that in order to bridge the wide compensation gap between senior level executives and line officers, it will be prudent not to increase salary across board by say 50%. Instead, the line executives should be given a majority percentage, say 80% whilst senior officers share the remaining 20%. This strategic role that HR has played, over the last few decades, and continues to play, has brought significant boost to the credibility and reputation of the profession, but there is a lot more to be done. HR must go beyond proffering advice to taking the charge to build sustainable and credible businesses.

The next move for HR is to lead the business to greater levels of achievement, fulfilment and impact. HR leaders, as shapers and executors of strategy, must build exceptional competencies in business case analysis, budgeting, risk portfolio management, selling, client relationship management, mergers and acquisitions, and project management so as to drive both organic and inorganic growth. A RBL Group Report has indicated that there are still wide competency gaps amongst HR professionals, especially, in Africa and in Asia. The resultant effect is that their organisations still perform below actual potential. The responsibility for today’s HR leaders is to create world-class, high performing organisations with highly sought-after products and services that deliver sustainable value.

Sir Richard Branson, otherwise referred to as “Dr. Yes” at Virgin Group, for his extraordinary belief in his workers and quick commitment to actualizing newly-created entrepreneurial ideas, is noted for saying, “Put your employees first and customers second. If the people who work at your company are treated well and given the tools to do a good job, they are going to be happy. Effectively, in the end, shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff remains happy.” This point is firmly buttressed by the words of Vineet Nayar of HCL Technologies: “If you take care of your employees, they will surely take care of your customers. If you do not take care of them, they will not adequately take care of your customers.”Sounds simple, doesn’t it? People are the business; not a peripheral.

For the HR profession to effectively lead the business, professionals, consultants and industry, practitioners must focus on four key things: People, Data, Technology, and Performance.

People: HR must bring in leaders, not followers. The truth is that the more leaders an organisation has, the higher the potential for growth. It is a hiring error in today’s fast-paced environment to hire people who cannot enter leadership roles after six months on the job. Beyond experience, which is crucial anyway, agility, a desire to lead, and an uncompromising dissatisfaction for the status quo must stand tall on the hiring checklist. More importantly, one of the prime goals of the culture integration process must be to embed in the hearts of the people, a clear understanding of the company’s purpose, vision and values. It is an established fact that people work beyond the pay cheque. As a matter of fact, employee engagement would speedily rise, and attrition rates would drastically fall if the culture in most organisations creates room for people to embark on socially relevant projects, and also allows to design personal activities that tie in with the company’s mission and given resources to execute these activities. It is only obvious that people gravitate towards environments that celebrate their achievement and unearth the best in them.

Furthermore, to engrave the company’s values in the hearts of the people, HR professionals can assign to a team one of the company’s values to live by every quarter or month (this can be discretional). An independent panel can design a scoreboard to evaluate the team’s performance and assign points to the team. Teams that score high should be duly rewarded. This exercise is important in bringing to life the relevance of the company’s ethos and its direct impact on work.

Data: To speed up growth, building synergistic collaborations in this age is important. But having huge databases and only making decisions from a trend-analysis perspective is not enough. HR leaders must do predictive analysis. They must look behind and look ahead in providing useful information to guide strategic decision making. “Uncertain” and “volatile” are today’s buzzwords; however, HR professionals must seize tomorrow’s opportunities with boldness and lead the business to achieve results.

Technology: So gradually WhatsApp, owned by Zuckerberg’s Facebook, Inc. is on a mission to disrupt the electronic mobile communication platform. They may soon be operating a Skype-like interface, which means that the acclaimed electronic communication platform may become obsolete, if its leadership does not respond. Technology is driving unprecedented levels of efficiency in advanced economies. Sadly, in Africa, we are yet to optimize its usage. There is no excuse for why HR leaders will not press for a digital strategy as a mechanism for achieving competitive advantage.   

Performance: It starts with hiring right (let’s bring the right people in), upholding high standards and a deep commitment to delivering exceptional experiences, always. Four steps are crucial to upholding a culture of high performance. First, performance has to be defined. From top down, strategic objectives must be cascaded such that it reaches the final person, and the intended result is achieved. Also, there has to be Key Performance Indicators or Metrics to track the objectives’ achievement and to evaluate if the intended result was achieved.

Secondly, performance has to be communicated and coached. Often, line managers do not effectively communicate with their team members. Too many assumptions come to play. They assume they will understand as they go along, but often forget that people differ and so do their levels of understanding and involvement. Coaching is a potent tool for igniting both personal and corporate turnarounds. When well conducted, it builds professional intimacy and deepens trust between manager and team member. The end result is that they each pledge unwavering dedication to delivering results.

Thirdly, performance must be monitored. What we do not monitor, we are unable to improve. I propose quarterly performance audits to discuss gaps, proffer turnaround tactics, and monitor implementation.

Lastly, performance must be improved. In a continuously changing business landscape flooded by high quality, tech-powered products, and extremely innovative minds never seen in many generations, continual improvement is a must.

These are challenging times for businesses and HR professionals must show the leadership that is required to stay relevant and create continuous value.  

By: David Mills


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