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Jun 24, 2010

So I was reading through my issue of Fast Company magazine and they had an article featuring the 100 Most Creative People in Business. Some of the picks were a little out there or obvious, but the meat of the list had people who were rooted in business. It featured founders, CEO’s, and directors as well as people from marketing, product development, IT, finance, and education.

Here’s where I did a double take: not a single HR person made the Fast Company list.

Did I miss someone? I rescanned the multi-page spread. Nope.

The one HR issue that stuck out to me — the not-so-recent wellness initiative that Safeway has been talking about — was represented by their CEO, Steve Burd. Now having seen Burd speak about wellness, I know why he was featured by Fast Company, but it bothers me that not even a really pressing HR issue like wellness can get an HR person on their list.

Now here is a function that recruits, onboards, develops and retains the people that are making these great strides. Are there no creative ideas out there that HR people are involved in that are worth mentioning? I’m guessing there’s not, but there are several reasons that I don’t think creative HR folks are going to be featured in the next Fast Company list regardless of that.

Silos. Lots and lots of silos.

I’ve been arguing that there are still too many people in HR doing work in their little silo. There’s a reason why the Fast Company list is littered with founders, marketers and product development folks: they are thinking broadly about their business and their world. Let’s solve this problem in society, whereas someone in HR is perceived of being wholly interested in just HR minutia. I imagine even the folks who are doing creative work in HR are suffering because of this stereotype.

Lack of deliverables

Seth Godin talks about this idea of shipping something being one of the ultimate fears in business. It is also one of the key things people do in business to get recognized. So is the problem that HR doesn’t ship much, or is there simply a lack of deliverables? I think the expectation that HR isn’t going to ship anything is changing, though, because HR people are put in charge of massive product shipments to their employees now.

Selling and owning ideas

And not just any ideas. Ideas that turn into products or advance the field or industry. At the Spring ERE Expo in San Diego put on by ERE Media (TLNT is a subsidiary of ERE Media), we heard from companies that are doing just that. On the whole though, it seems as if HR is lacking in one or both these ideas. They either sell big ideas and then let others take ownership of them ,or, they take ownership of other people’s ideas. HR needs to do both.

Many of HR’s advancements just aren’t cool

That’s not a judgment about their value, just of the perception. That’s why I was surprised to see the CEO of Safeway grab such a high spot on the Fast Company list (he’s No. 6). Wellness isn’t cool. Benefits and compensation aren’t cool. Retention isn’t cool. Yes, you could argue they add strategic value, tactical advantage, and are worth investing in. But in the interest of the general public, they probably want to see what the product development lead for Facebook is doing, or maybe the Apple marketing guru. Nobody cares what got them there or is keeping them there.

What are your thoughts? Are HR people creative or are they just not being recognized?