Now that HR has developed its commercial acumen, the profession needs to return to what it knows best, writes Darren Wentworth.
In some ways we are still benefiting from a post-Olympics feel good factor in the UK one year on. The financial services firms are hiring again – particularly into the retail banking space – and are pulling in people from other sectors, stimulating recruitment activity across the board. I get the sense that a lot of people are now thinking, “I need to make a change. I’ve stayed in this business long enough because of the financial situation”. Now there’s traction in the market HR professionals are in a good position to move.
The financial crisis and the recession that followed demanded a commercial rigour from HR like never before. Learning and development, HR and OD were challenged to put new decisions and strategies into pounds and pence and in justifying their every move became business partners first and people managers second. That tide has started to turn.
Frazer Jones hosted an HR Directors breakfast recently with some of the most commercial HR people that I have ever worked with. The view in the room was this: the CEO knows how to run the business, he doesn’t want you to be commercial, he wants you to deliver a people plan that is going to deliver to the commercial objectives of the business.
HR professionals have put so much effort into becoming commercial that in some cases they actually sacrificed some of the people skills that make them so valuable. We can’t neglect the people agenda because we are striving to be more commercial or more strategic. To use a business comparison, you don’t want your sales director to be such a great people manager that they sacrifice their ability to go to market and sell. The same goes with HR: if you go so far down the route of being commercial that you forget what the people agenda is, then you fail as a function.
It is simply a balancing act. There’s no doubt that HR needed to become more commercial and continues to need commercial skills. But now it needs to use those skills in its people strategy. And the way it must do so is through the use of metrics and data.
There are so many organisations now using technology to capture data to see what consumers are doing, what they’re buying and how the market is behaving. Consumer habits are now monitored daily, even every second. However, the very same business may run an employee engagement survey only once a year. The best HR managers are now applying the same market rigour and technology to employee engagement: getting quantitative and qualitative feedback from that data to help them make business decisions.
What we’ve done for years and years is to simply go ahead and implement a new management self-service system, for example, without the necessary research and analytics to show if we need it or not, if its the right thing for the business or the issue that is going to give us the quickest or the biggest win. Data allows you to use the information that you have to make those informed decisions, and that is what HR can currently do to have the biggest impact on the business. And if that isn’t commercial, then I don’t know what is.