HR Reporting: If you change nothing, nothing will change

imagesIn the last week I was a witness to something special. A large number of European HR Managers from multiple organizations and sectors stood up for their need of effective reporting and use of data.

We all agree. In the very near future, there will be a wider use of predictive analytics and better HR strategic decisions supported by reporting. We know it exists, and it is there to help. We think about the benefits: using HR data to help drive business decisions regarding talent within your organization by the use of analytics and reports.

As I started my career in AIESEC, I had to deal with numbers regularly, manage a talent product pipeline across a large number of markets, and as I was involved with customers, I learned the use the information I had to demonstrate ROI; So I have always been amazed at the lack of data that is used in HR outside of Recruiting and headcount reports.

If you talk to IT professionals, they will tell you all about their organization’s reporting strategies. They understand the tools, data and outcomes. But, if you talk to HR and payroll professionals, they tell you that HR doesn’t have a strategy. HR is different, they say. Demands for HR reports tend to be more ad hoc or more reliant upon real-time data (rather than warehoused data that is used in many reporting strategies).

Reporting strategies are unique from organization to organization, and HR reporting is no different. There are specific business-based needs, demands and limitations that drive the strategy.

And yet there are fears; What will our unions say? What is the impact on the privacy of our employees? How can we ensure data is used fairly and will not be used in a negative way? Who should be able to access it? Who should be able to keep it? Being able to get the data and see the data is one thing. Having the ability to use data to help development, design and build HR strategies is completely different.

Maybe there is a fear within HR, real or not, that because talent management deals with “people,” using such “big data” will somehow minimize the person or people behind the number – a fear that HR can’t develop real HR strategy with executives outside of HR because “those leaders” only see numbers and dollars sign. What HR is missing is the ability to construct a conversation to help leaders hear the HR story by using the numbers behind the people.

The Circle… If You Change Nothing, Nothing will Change

Many organizations fail to see the HR value proposition. This doesn’t happen because HR teams are not having good ideas or their concepts would not bring great value to the organization but simply because the HR managers fail to build a business case as they do not have enough “clear data” to support their request or perhaps because they are not speaking in their native Finance or Operation tongues otherwise known as the language of ROI, Cost Savings and increase productivity.

HR departments seem to have a lack of tools to gather such data, which normally reside across 4-5 different systems. As a result they may try to find other reporting departments to assist in pulling data for them. Again, however, due to speaking different languages than other departments, the reports, charts or raw data may not fully meet their needs or paint the full picture needed to support their initiatives. A change is necessary, so how can an organization break the cycle?

Understand your initiative and the impact it has on the organization

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • How are you going to solve it?
  • What is it needed?
  • What is the benefit?

Be Proactive and Learn the Business Language

  • ROI, Cost Saving, Increase Productivity, Business Requirement Gathering and other company specific resources are going to be key when planning for the next meeting with the business.
  • Think of the larger organizational impact of the program or initiative related to the workforce (i.e. how does this impact our company’s revenue and sales)?

Ask for help

  • As an HR professional, you have relationships across the organization. Leverage those relationships by asking your peers, those who you see are successful getting funding for their projects, what’s their secret.
  • Use this guidance to gather data to support your project and understand what answers you can provide to truly demonstrate the value of your initiative and organizational impact.

As HR professionals move forward into the new world of “big data” and analytics, it is important for us to remember there are people behind the numbers, and HR will always be about the people.

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Social Media Centers of Excellence

Everyone knows how to use social media, right? Hell, even grandma is on Facebook these days! And if you are my Facebook friend you know I post the hell of a lot right? Not many complaint, but in case you wonder, here are some answers (finally!).

If everyone uses social media, It would seem then, that every recruiter should have no problem when it comes to social recruiting. After all: if recruiters are using social media on the daily in their personal lives, they should be adept enough to use it in their professional lives, too.

This line of thinking seems sound, but social recruiting isn’t that simple. There’s a big difference between how we use social media in our personal lives and how we use it to attract talent and build employer brands.

As consumers interacting with social media, most [we are not thinking about the ROI for each post; we’re posting to keep our social networks updated, for vanity, for career progression, to chronicle our lives, and for a myriad of other reasons, but for talent marketers, it’s a different story.

How Social Media Stacks the Deck Against Employers

It’s pretty easy to be a consumer on social media — but it’s very hard to be a recruiter,.

On platforms like Facebook, users are inundated by the sheer volume of posts from their friends, the groups they join, and the pages they follow. Users simply cannot see everything that ends up in their feeds — there’s just too much.

That is, Facebook — and other social media platforms — have set up their systems so that people are far more likely to see posts from their friends than they are to see posts from employers trying to build their brands. Not only does prioritizing friends’ posts keep users happy — it also leads to increased profit for social media platforms.

As businesses get less free access to views, they will pay for this access. For Facebook, as an example, the decrease in organic reach — how often employers’ posts are seen in users’ feeds — is inversely proportional to Facebook’s stock price. Look at this slide from Universum:


In other words: Facebook and other social media platforms have no interest in making it easy for employers to reach prospective talent. The harder it is for employers to brand themselves on social, the more money flows into social media platforms’ wallets.

Social recruiting differs from quotidian social media use in another important way, too: recruiters and employers on social are dealing with  a more educated and highly skeptical audience.

Now that literal millions of businesses are on Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like, consumers and potential candidates have grown more aware of these business — and more able to spot their content and tune it out.

Employers work hard to create content that feels natural — marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing. But social media users pick on small differences between organic, user-generated content and branded content — and when they do, they scroll right past the branded content.

“The massive success of social has created incredibly savvy consumers,” says Universum. “Creating compelling content for talent is harder than it has ever been.”

What to Do When Social Recruiting Becomes a Massive Challenge

Frankly speaking, social recruiting is hard work. Building an employer brand on social media requires more than just a team of recruiters with Facebook accounts; it requires investment, metrics, and training.

Universum found that “most organizations are under-investing in social recruiting and social employer branding” — though not for lack of trying.

Social marketing for HR is still incredibly new for most. Many employers are in the midst of figuring out where the social budget comes from. The challenge is not interest; what escapes most currently is creating new budgetary ‘social buckets’ of investment to fund these new social ideas.


Adding up complexity, particularly Germany, current employees are highly resistant to being spoken about as a part of the story of an organization (pictures, posts, quotes, you name it). This is highly paradoxical given that they use social media as anyone else. Behind it I found, more than the quintessential discussion on privacy and data protection, former colleagues of mine seemed afraid of what their loved ones could find out about what they do at work (they misbehave at work?) but that is another story. In any case, this attitude leaves recruiters with very little genuine content to work with (I at some point during my employment in that company in Germany accepted to have travelled in time on my way to work and to commute every day to 1997).

Similarly, Universum also found that relatively few organizations are actually measuring social media effectiveness, given how new social talent marketing is to most employers, it’s not surprising that most are not measuring effectiveness. But, tracking social metrics is incredibly important — But what should we be tracking?

“What’s most important to measure is conversions – the talent that applies to jobs via social channels,” Universum says. “This is the ultimate measure of success, as this can be linked to other, more traditional metrics like time-to-hire, cost-per-hire, and tenure.”

Employers that are just starting out in the social game should focus mainly on tracking engagement. Engagement goes beyond ‘likes’ and considers the other, more meaningful interactions with talent, like comments and shares. It’s these metrics that will show that your audience is curated, as well as engaged.

Universum’s study recommends that, in order to improve their social recruiting and branding efforts, employers should think about creating “Social Media Centers of Excellence,” which are explained as such:

“Typically, this is a charter group with one or more members from HR, marketing, corporate relations, and public relations. Sometimes, external agencies are also invited … to share best practices and ideas. This center crystallizes the common [social media] goals for the group, which brings clarity to activities, and also highlights each divisions’ unique needs. These needs are heard by all participants, which unearths new ideas and builds empathy for campaign plans and decisions.”

Through a social media center of excellence, an employer can define its voice and tone on social, and it can create a collaborative, interdepartmental approach to social media strategies. To succeed in this era of savvy consumers and unfriendly social media platforms, employers may have no other choice but to invest in such centers.

And this answers the question: Why does Maria post so much? But that is just partly, in reality I read a lot and just as anyone else I share what I find interesting.

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Education: Not a Revolution, but a change that might just work

In the last six months I submerged myself deeply in the ups and downs of technology innovation around education and learning and shifted my career to focus to just that. Yes ladies and gentlemen, no more hiring and I’m going to come right out and say it: few areas have been as hopeful and as disappointing as innovation in education.

Education is the most important function in our society today, yet it remains one of the least understood, despite incredible levels of investment from venture capitalists and governments.

We may have an empirical idea and some hunches, but we still lack any fundamental insights.

That’s truly disappointing. With the rise of the internet, it seemed like education was to experience a complete revolution. Today, though, you would be excused for not seeing much of a difference between the way we learn and how we did so twenty years ago. One thesis to understand why this has happened is simply that we have ignored the more human aspects of education, replacing it instead with a “give ’em tablets and they will learn” mentality.

After talking to many people from multiple sectors and backgrounds that are currently running projects and try to make breakthroughs in the area, I think the next wave of education innovation won’t come from dumping technology on the problem. Instead, it will come from deeply engaging with people and empowering them to make learning all their own.

These past months, I talked to two individuals on opposite sides of improving education. Petroula Karagianni, from the University of Athens with whom I have discussed the opportunities and challenges of bringing an entrepreneurial mentality into the structures of classic higher education; And André Lung co-founder of AbilityLoft, an ondemand online education startup, coming at the problem from the other direction, rethinking online education in the aftermath of the MOOC explosion.

One could theorize that online education has kind of overstepped its current effectiveness, and everyone is saying what is possible by painting this picture, but systems haven’t reached that point yet as they are not providing the end user with content custommized to their individual needs and current practices to drive user adoption are laying behind.

Education in general has been designed from the point of view of those instituations that administer it (not drivers of innovation). By shifting the focus of the solution’s design to that of the learner, significant change can happen in the way online education is deployed. Learners would become customers and true loyalty could be achieved,

Together, these two trailblazers and many others like them are starting to form the next wave of education innovation – and potentially transform our societies in the process.

More Transformation

One interesting change in mentality coming from this new wave is a more mature view about what to do with the infrastructure of learning we already have. While the end of universities has been proposed by people like Peter Thiel, the reality is that the combination of status and endowments will ensure that many universities will survive and even thrive in the online age.

One interesting change coming to universities is simply that the timeframe of degree programs won’t be as fixed as they are today. As I spoke over the months with my mother, a pioneer of online education in Latin America we walked through multiple initiatives she has experienced, particularly one belonging to a large retailer in Mexico that has already engaged with many students in just its first few months of operation, being the students, the full time employees of the retailing giant. There has been enormous interest and demand and they have seen a strong community form with students leveraging each other.

Speaking methodically through the changes coming to education, everyone believes that large research universities won’t change much in the near future from new online education initiatives. The four year degree as we know it symbolically is going to change very little over the next ten years.

Instead, those involved in this field, like Petroula,  see a larger cultural shift to the same sort of continuous education that the AbilityLoft will be trying to instill in its learners. We know that skills are changing faster and faster, so teaching people how to learn new skills is really important, as much as it is to help people find the training they needs at the level adequate to their present knowledge. That skills-based approach is also what startups can do to help the current system. No one is trying to replace the position of prestigious universities. It is going to take a long time to see someone like OneMonth on a resume; it took long enough to see insitutions like Open University on them, which is why they are targeting more the skills.

One mistake that some see is in the extensive focus on students over teachers. While the language of education innovation often emphasizes students, empowering teachers may be as important or even more so for rethinking the way we learn. “We need to change the role of teachers. What kind of people do we consider teachers? How do we elevate teachers in society?”

Finding The Next Era

Today, it seems clear that the fusion of online and offline learning is going to be at the core of improving education. Humans are social creatures, and placing them in front of a laptop and hoping that they are just going to soak up the knowledge is often asking too much.

At the same time though, we need to be shifting our culture about what the ideal form of education might be. Academic knowledge needs to be complemented with practical learning, a mix that can be customized to each student’s needs. We are trying to build this technology that highlights the best content and trying to shift, in the students’ eyes and everyone’s eyes, what is the role of education in their life.

Whether through experiential learning with startups or skills-based learning through an online ondemand service, this next generation of education may be less disruptive and sexy than its immediate predecessor – but it also might just work.

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Dinner Party Recipe


1 eager young hostess who wants to show her friends she finally owns furniture by having a dinner party

1 half of a couple who is always running late

1 couple who are constantly breaking up and getting back together

1 single friend


In a small kitchen, mix half of the guests who have arrived on time despite the fact that no one is sure whether “7:30” means “arrive at 7:30” or “arrive an hour late”, like it did in university.

Let stand for one hour, until guests are very hungry and slightly irritable.

Slowly incorporate the remainder of the guests, pausing after the addition of each one for the same grating conversation about how easy or hard it was to find the host’s apartment and how close actually it is to Cologne and what a central up and coming neighborhood this is.

Gently, fold the host’s single friend into a discussion about people whom everyone in attendance used to work with and whom he has never met.

At this point, the on again, off again couple should be stewing, having revealed themselves to be off again through a tense disagreement about which one is responsible for their lateness. Separate the couple and set aside to chill.

Meanwhile, allow the single guest to marinate in the insecurity of what is going to happens here and what could be the host’s intent with the invitation.

When all the guests have arrived, whisk the conversation about the neighborhood into a frothy lament of gentrification. Skim over the fact that the party’s attendees all live in condos in neighborhoods that were considered sketchy ten years ago but are now full of organic produce shops.

Add wine.

Heap a large quantity of praise on the host’s cooking even if no one knew she could cook at all. When she worries aloud that the chicken isn’t fully cooked or is getting dry, vigorously massage her ego by reassuring Her that it is. (You may have to repeat this step more times than you think is necessary because as any human being she actually likes being complimented from time to time and this is a good reason to do so.)

Let the guy whose girlfriend is still running late mince his words while pontificating on a relatively esoteric current-events issue. Listen until it becomes clear that he made it through only one relevant “long read” on his lunch hour. Grill him until he is unable to clarify his point and is rendered speechless.

Meanwhile, sprinkle each couple’s speech with “we” statements, adding a subtle flavor of competition to the melange.

Each guest should, at some point, look around and offer a lukewarm comment about how “grownup” it is to be having a dinner party.

Congratulate one another on the genius of “just hanging out with friends instead of going to a noisy expensive bar”, as though you personally invented the concept of home entertaining.

Garnish with more compliments about the chicken, which there is nowhere near enough of.

Next, embroil the guests in a “theoretical” discussion of the merits of non-monogamous relationships.

Adding more wine every few minutes, reduce to a simmering fight between the on again, off again couple about “what constitutes human nature.”

Before long, the couple’s words will begin to turn dark and brittle. Be sure not to crowd them, so that bystanders don’t get burned.

Lighten the mood by offering a new theory on how good looking men have become lazy and let the single guest share a terrible story of his dating life and how not every good looking man is lazy. Let everyone else steep in pity for this person, before deglazing.

Blend several imperceptibly different opinions on an issue that basically everyone in attendance agrees upon. By this point, wine will have loosened up the guests enough for one of them to say something stupid in an attempt to be provocative.

Expose her to the low flame of the other guests’ judgement until she could turn slightly pink if her race allowed it. Then let her blanch as she frantically defends her stupid position further, insisting that she is only “playing devil’s advocate.”

Bring the argument to a boil, then remove the devil’s advocate from the heat by letting her pretend she is too drunk.

The remaining mixture of guests should bubble into nervous laughter.

After several minutes of uncomfortable silence, you should begin hearing sighing, yawning, and per functionary offers to help with the dishes.

Once each couple has been sifted out of the appartment, they will cool off by affectionately bad mouthing the other guests on the way home.

Yields for the host to get herself in the train to Cologne, text some people to go to an expensive noisy bar, one large headache and the desire to abstain from socializing with “grown ups” for several weeks.

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Si existe, que nos salve de Peña Nieto – If he exists he should save us from Peña Nieto

Images of Mexico’s president and his family visiting the UK have circulated the internet, magazines and news throughout the week… “Here we see Angelica Rivera (low level celebrity from the 90’s soap operas, now married to the president) wearing similar clothes as the Windsors, visiting London in a golden chariot, having dinner in Buckingham Palace…” – That is a very different welcome than the Mexican people would give them, if I may say it, a very different one from which the Pena Nieto family deserves. Personally, I can only say that I am annoyed and even offended. The reactions of the First Family towards the Mexican society are some sort of a joke, as if they could hear nothing; actually as if they didn’t care. It’s clear to me that they have no worry. They sleep in their “White House” and move around guarded by a large number of security personnel wearing dresses worth ten thousand dollars… The needs of the “people”… they couldn’t care less. The Queen spoke of the “enduring friendship” between Mexico and the UK, Nick Clegg remarked that he hoped the visit would usher in a “new era of UK-Mexico relations which will bring our people even closer together”, and FCO Minister Hugo Swire tweeted that he found Peña Nieto’s speech “inspiring”. Even by the tawdry standards usually applied to British relations with Latin America, this takes some doing. Mexico is in the grip of an urgent human rights crisis with Amnesty International describing torture as “out of control” and accusing police and security services of having “blood in their hands”. More than 100 000 people have been killed and more than 22 000 have disappeared since Mexico launched a “war on drugs” in 2006. The most recent outrage in Mexico has been the disappearance and probable massacre of 43 students, which Peña Nieto insisted had nothing to do with the Mexican authorities – despite growing evidence of the contrary. I am aware that international diplomatic relations are necessary, but, is it necessary to take Paulina Peña (daughter) for the state visit to Buckingham Palace? Is it necessary for Sofia Castro (step daughter) to make a selfie wearing a Dolce & Gabanna worth 7 275 USD posing as Amal Clooney? Is all the publicity, show off and appearances necessary for a president that very honestly is doing a poor job? “And in the meantime in Mexico”… – letters show up in a frame in the same old school way of those 90s TV shows – In the meantime in Mexico… How can you forget about your missing son? How can someone ask you to learn to walk the streets in fear? How can someone ask you to live with 63 pesos while one kilo of tortillas costs 16 pesos? How can you get used to see corpses on top of corpses, piling up in your country? How can you get used to mass graves being found in which bodies cannot be identified? How can you tolerate for the responsible person of this absolute disaster to wonder around London in a golden chariot? How can you stomach to see them travelling the world problem free when all above are your daily concerns? No, it is not fair. And the whole thing is not a part of any national political agenda. I am very sure. The whole thing reminds me of Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI of France… As her servants informed her of her people being hungry; she answered – If they don’t have bread, they should eat cake – Point being that she was so far away from reality in Versailles she had no idea of what was happening to the people in Paris, and this is how I feel. I don’t think the Peña family should move out of their home and live like most Mexicans do, the only think that I ask for is for some sensibility and compassion for those that sponsor their lifestyle; to have some knowledge and understanding for the adversity they face and to stop being part of the poison that is killing Mexico. They shouldn’t complaint about the modest way people are voicing their need for change or defend themselves when they are the ones defending themselves with a large security detail, and the very least, they should stop saying to the national media that “the people” should mind their own business when they travel to Vegas (in the middle of the 43 missing students crisis) to have some fun and they owe “no one an explanation”. They do owe an explanation to the people that elected Enrique Peña into office and pay for their eccentricities. The kindest thing one could say about Peña Nieto with regards to the 43 missing students, the drug war, the murder of thousands, and the threats to journalists who try to expose these crimes, is that he has been totally incompetent, unforgivably slow to react, and has failed to adhere to even the most anodyne of his pre-election promises to approach the problems with narcotrafficking from a less militaristic standpoint. This failure means Mexico’s security services are still armed to the teeth, making it easier for them to commit exactly the sort of human rights violations condemned by Amnesty International and other human rights groups across the world. In light of these acts, David Cameron’s vague assurance that he would raise the “human rights issue” during Peña Nieto’s UK visit is laughable. The prime minister expresses horror when Isis militants behead captives to send a message to the west, and yet welcomes with open arms the president of a country in which innocent people are publicly beheaded by drug cartels in their hundreds, protected by a culture of silence and indifference. And yet, we should expect nothing less from the west’s attitude towards Latin America, which has been characterized by this kind of hypocrisy for centuries. Across the region, the US in particular has been unrestrained in its meddling with Latin American governments, frequently installing or befriending tyrants that submit to its will and then denouncing them as soon as they cease to be useful (sounds like something they have done in Africa and the Middle East right?). Similarly, US congress is preparing to issue sanctions against Venezuela for human rights violations committed by the security forces during protests last year; an incredible feat of double standards, given that even the harshest critics of Venezuela would agree that the human rights situation there is not even close to the crisis in Mexico, or for that matter, Colombia. Not that I want to give them any ideas. The US has enough power and inflicts enough pain to the Mexican people and economy as it is. Those who defend European and American policy in Latin America would probably invoke realpolitik; they might argue that the west’s hypocrisy is justifiable, given the need for nations to look out for their own interests. Whatever the reason, we shouldn’t be under any illusion about the consequences of those double standards. It’s not socialist leaders like Castro or Chavez who suffer the consequences from those actions; it’s the regions poorest and most vulnerable people – like those 43 Mexican students that do. For the Peña dynasty luck is not eternal and after a few days of a “dream” they will go back to Mexico, where Mexicans await them with open arms loaded of doubt and resentment. The results of this discontent are more and more visible. The People are often underestimated. This is a Nation thirsty and hungry for justice, disgusted of being laughed at, straight on their face. And if the Peñas were a bit more educated, they would know a bit more about history (which of course they don’t), they would realize that all large revolutions begin with social discontent and unequal wealth distribution. Many protesters now chant to “they take so much away from you that they take the fear away from you”. None is calling for a revolution now (I am not politically close to someone that would instigate or become active in one), but one has to speak up:  The Mexican people won’t tolerate this death and poverty circus forever. As Nemesio Garcia Naranjo said once: Pobre de México tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de Estados Unidos – and the only thing I am left to add is “pero si existe, que nos salve del reino de Peña”.

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A Post-it Story

I hope you get something out of this one, either freedom or love.

image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image

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Technology and the Development of Human Resources

Last December, I was involved in a series of conversations with senior executives of large multinationals that were answering in a way or another the key question of: What is the role of an HR team in an organization?

I took a consultant’s approach while answering this question and identified the key levers that would influence the function of Human Resources in an organization; Continued to key drivers within and prioritization of them.

With a couple of months working on the “correct” answer to the question (which can be anything from purely functional to almost spiritual), I decided to use Technology as a common thread for the changes this field has had in organizations over time.

The field of Human Resources can be divided into two basic areas:

  • Personnel management focusing on administrative and legal processes associated with employment of people. This includes things such as managing payroll, providing health care benefits, and handling the administrative and legal details associated with establishing and terminating employment contracts. I like to refer to this as the basic care and feeding of employees.
  • Business execution focusing on talent management processes associated with aligning the workforce to deliver business results. Business execution is often described as “getting the right people in the right jobs doing the right things.” You might also add “in a way that supports the right development for what we want people to do tomorrow.” I refer to this as maximizing and sustaining workforce productivity.

Personnel management is critical to organizational performance but it is not seen as strategic. For example, while it is difficult to motivate employees if their paychecks don’t show up, paying people on time is not going to give a company competitive advantage.

In this sense, personnel management is similar to other crucial support services such as processing expense reports, maintaining e-mail systems, or managing building facilities. The personnel management side of HR typically gets little attention from line of business leaders unless it fails to work.

Business execution represents the strategic side of HR. HR’s ability to increase business execution is the primary reason why HR matters to operations leaders.

Line leaders rarely ask personnel management questions such as “how do I ensure people get paid on time?” They often ask business execution questions such as “how do I get people aligned around the company’s strategic goals?” If HR leaders want greater influence with the CEO and his/her direct reports then being good at business execution is how they will get it.

Why HR struggles to deliver business execution

If line leaders care so much about business execution then why are HR organizations so often viewed as administrative functions consumed with personnel management issues? If HR can help operations leaders “get employees to do what they need them to do,” then why aren’t these leaders proactively reaching out to HR executives for help implementing business strategies? The answers to these questions hinge on an HR department’s ability to truly drive increased levels of business execution.

One reason HR organizations struggle when it comes to business execution is, it is harder to support than personnel administration. Personnel administration is largely about implementing well defined and efficient processes (e.g., ensuring the proper information is collected when enrolling employees in a health care benefits program). In contrast, business execution requires predicting and changing employee behavior (e.g., identifying employees who have the potential to become future business leaders and giving them assignments that allow them to realize this potential).

Predicting and changing behavior is hard. Two things are required for an HR organization to effectively support business execution.

  1. Expertise — The HR organization must have expertise in methods for predicting and changing employee behavior. For example, understanding how to use goals to motivate employee performance or being able to measure employee performance in a way that allows the company to accurately predict future potential.
  2. Implementation — The HR organization must be able to efficiently deploy its business execution expertise across the organization. It does not matter if the HR department knows how to increase employee performance if the department cannot effectively share this knowledge with the line leaders who actually manage employees.

How technology enables HR to evolve to business execution

Technology has and continues to play a pivotal role in enabling HR organizations to move from personnel management to business execution. To illustrate this process, let’s take a look at four different “generations” of HR that have emerged over the past 20 plus years.

  • Pre 1990: Generation “Personnel Administration.” Prior to 1990, many HR organizations were almost entirely focused on personnel administration. This was due in part to the sheer amount of time required to manage administrative HR processes before the widespread implementation of HR automation technology. In fact, prior to 1990 many HR organizations were not even called “human resources.” Instead, they had titles such as Office of Personnel Administration or Personnel Department. The main focus of HR in this generation was on how to efficiently process employee paperwork.
  • 1990 to 2000: Generation “Human Resources.” Two things happened in the 1990s that led to personnel management being redefined as “human resources.” First, implementation of ERP technology significantly reduced the time needed to perform administrative HR tasks. This freed up HR organizations to focus more on business execution topics. This led to significant advances in the expertise found within HR related to predicting and changing employee behavior. Many of the talent management techniques we now take for granted were largely developed in the 90s (e.g., action learning, competency modeling, structured interviewing, goal setting).

Second, the widespread adoption of personal computers made it possible for HR organization to utilize more sophisticated talent management techniques to support key talent decisions. For example, using computer based tools for and forms for evaluating employee performance and assessing job candidates. Throughout the 90s the focus of HR steadily shifted beyond personnel management to include processes designed to improve the quality of workforce decisions (e.g., determining who to hire, proactively managing employee turnover, or using job goals to drive employee development).

  • 2001 to 2010: Generation “Talent Management.” Widespread adoption of Internet systems in the 2000s allowed HR organization to more efficiently share data across what had previously been independent HR processes. For example, automatically importing data collected during the hiring process into systems used to support employee development and management or the creation of an employee profile that truly represents the employee’s life cycle from beginning to end,

Greater access to data enabled HR to shift from focusing on specific employee decisions to aligning talent management processes. No longer was HR limited to being a series of isolated silos focusing on staffing, training, compensation and succession. Now HR could function as a set of integrated talent management processes designed to ensure a steady supply of high performing talent in critical job roles.

  • 2011 to ?: Generation “Business Execution.” As companies increasingly adopt cloud computing applications, HR organizations are spending less time maintaining in-house talent management tools and more time on how to most effectively use these tools to increase workforce productivity. The shift to the cloud also enables HR technology vendors to invest more resources into creating highly scalable, user friendly applications that embed HR expertise in tools that are accessible to line managers. This should allow HR professionals to shift their energy from managing processes to actively supporting business execution. HR is focusing less on simply keeping track of who employees are, and more on ensuring these employees are being used effectively to support the company’s short and long-term business strategies.

The impact that cloud based business execution technology has on HR can be likened to the impact that global positioning satellite (GPS) technology has on the use of street maps. It allows companies to take information off of shelves where it was rarely accessed and put it in the hands of decision makers when they need it in a format they can readily use. The result is an increasing number of HR organizations that are fundamentally and profoundly improving how line managers run their businesses.

Turning HR into a Business Execution department

While technology plays a critical role in enabling the transformation of HR from personnel management to business execution, technology by itself does not create this change. HR leaders must effectively use this technology to drive more business relevant conversation with line leaders.

Rather than asking operations leaders about HR topics such as employee engagement or leadership development, HR professionals must start conversations by asking line leaders about what it is they need people to do. What kinds of people do they need in the company to support the company’s growth strategies? What do they need employees to do differently tomorrow from what they are doing today to effectively drive new business initiatives?

Running a business requires doing three things:

  • Defining Strategy — Figuring out what you need to do to succeed.
  • Managing assets — Securing the capital & resources required to support the strategy.
  • Driving business execution – Building and managing the workforce to effectively leverage company assets to deliver strategic objectives

Defining strategy is commonly owned by the CEO and marketing. Managing assets is often owned by finance and supply chain. HR, for perhaps the first time in its history, now has both the knowledge and tools needed to play a true leadership role in driving business execution.

The next step is for HR leaders to take ownership of this role. We have the tools and knowledge, we just need the courage and conviction to use them.

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