It’s Not Easy, But Here’s Where HR Can Add Value to the Business

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May 21, 2013

We want a seat at the table? We want to add value? We want to positively influence the success of the business?

OK, then let’s stop giving away one of our best tools – the art and science of performance improvement!

No, not performance management, where managers spend as little time as possible each year providing feedback to employees that is as bland as possible.

I mean real performance improvement; the sort of improvement that gets the attention of executives and builds the bottom line. Performance improvement that brings together the social sciences to examine and adjust human behavior through assessment, action and evaluation.

HR is losing an opportunity to add value

HR is all about the people, right? OK, so when the IT department is implementing a new technology platform, do they turn to HR for support in change leadership, or do they hire the consultant recommended by the software vendor who is an “expert” in this people process?

When the organization is acquiring a new company whose product is different from the parent organization (perhaps in the spirit of diversification), do they ask HR to help understand how the new relationship will impact performance because of cultural differences? Probably they don’t even think of that.

When a department is performing poorly, do operational leaders invite HR to help them diagnose the problem? I think many HR professionals would say “no, they just ask us for team building.”

I contend that HR is losing an opportunity to truly add value to their organizations by not having or being perceived as having the knowledge and skill to step in?

The body of knowledge that can help in change leadership, cultural assessment, and performance diagnosis is the “D” side of HR — Human Resources Development. Sometimes it is called Organizational Development, sometimes Organizational Efficiency, sometimes Learning and Development. It’s all built on research and theory from the likes of Kurt Lewin, Peter Senge, Margaret Wheatley, Warner Burke, and Edgar Schein.

This kind of work is not easy

I have watched each of those scenarios I described play out in more than one organization as operational leaders don’t think about HR as having either the role or the skills to be an active partner in performance improvement, and I have watched new disciplines emerge to fill this gap. Project Management, Lean, Six Sigma, quality and performance improvement methodologies are growing, standardizing and leading organizations in the human elements of process and change.

But this is exactly the role and skills that will offer the opportunity for Human Resources to add real value to an organization. It facilitates the proactive development of knowledge, understanding and commitment, rather than the reactive role of compliance that we so often face.

But here’s the catch: This kind of work is not easy, and in this age of information overload, doing more with less, and a slowly recovering economy, organizations are looking for “easy.” Not only must Human Resource Development have the skills to intervene, but they must also have the skills to influence a systematic approach to looking at the systems and processes that often get in the way of performance.

Knowledge that is critical for success

From my perspective, here are five bodies of knowledge that are critical for successful HR teams:

  1. Organizational culture. I often hear leaders talk about “changing the culture.” A student of organizational culture recognizes that you don’t change the culture. You change the behavior; behavior is the tangible and visible sign of organizational health, and can be carefully shifted.
  2. Performance and Process Improvement. The content and tools offered by Project Management, Lean and Six Sigma should be part of every HR leader’s toolbox, as they facilitate a systematic diagnosis of the problem, leading to some action that ideally fixes the problem, and then evaluating the effectiveness of the fix.
  3. Organizational Change. As John Kotter’s research indicated, 70 percent of change efforts fail. The science of organizational change focuses on all facets of the organization – the people, the processes, the systems, the politics, and the engagement and commitment of the workforce. Like any highly complex system, you move one lever, and something unexpected happens to another level. Having the tools and knowledge to predict and address a holistic approach raises the odds of success.
  4. Learning and Development. Too often we continue the myth of training classes to develop leaders and our workforce. Lombardo and Eichinger propose that only 10 percent of learning comes from reading and classes. Adults learn and develop skills by having the opportunity to practice. HR leaders need a healthy dose of adult learning theory in order to help operational leaders understand that a class is rarely going to effect change.
  5. Data and Information. The field of human resource development is formed by the “Assess-Do-Evaluate” method. In order to effectively asses — to find the root cause of the problem — HR must have credible data.

For a little light reading, here is my favorite reading list, and it is very worthwhile for those HR practitioners who see the opportunity in the “D.”

These are my thoughts. I would love to hear yours.

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.

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