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Rethinking HR Practices

May 1, 1997
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article
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Last month, I talked about integration, and how important it is to combine and assimilate all pieces of our lives into a whole, balanced unit. This month, I wish to discuss two inane practices that can pull us sideways or keep us out of that needed alignment.

I define inane as those ideas, concepts or rules that are nonsensical—the things that seem illogical, cry out for change or make one crazy. I’ll address two of these practices that hurt us as employees, as people and as HR professionals. You may or may not agree. Just hear me out.

Reevaluate core competencies.
The first is the common use of core competencies. As companies strive to meet the needs of today’s customers, a part of the process has been to decide which basic product or service it provides and to identify the core technology and core competencies for which the company wishes to be known. This strategic procedure requires articulating the company’s mission and goals—a point clearly defined in "Competing for the Future," by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad. This is good. Companies should know what the essential pieces are to their businesses, what functions to keep internal and what processes to outsource. However, the down side is that companies inadvertently and shortsightedly only focus on the technical pieces—the products or the services that are vital to the company’s existence. Other aspects of the business such as wellness aren’t considered core. Herein lies the problem.

The major flaw in such thinking is the denial or lack of understanding of the human relations part of the business. A colleague recently conducted a study within his company to evaluate the causes of a product delay. What managers discovered from those interviewed is that between 50 percent and 70 percent of the problems came from the technical end of the business. Between 30 percent and 50 percent of the problems came from communication breakdowns, territoriality and nonteam behaviors that sabotaged the work. Clearly, the communication behaviors of all those involved impacted the outcome. And yet, managers continue to focus almost 100 percent on the technical aspects of the business, as if it were the only, true component to success. This common thread is alive and well in companies that do a lot of training, that may even consider themselves a learning company.

Why? Because it’s safer and easier to focus on things rather than people. Humans have wiggle room that products and services don’t have. People are alive and organic. Widgets and services are dead and inert. Most employees don’t joyfully seek opportunities to talk about their behaviors. It’s easier to talk about technology.

This skewed perspective leads right into the next inane business practice: unequal compensation—compensation based on old mindsets about who and what’s important, and who really contributes. HR professionals should guarantee equity to all functions that contribute to the bottom line. In most companies I’ve observed, executives in technology, finance, marketing and operations are well-compensated. And it takes all of the expertise from such key individuals, usually five to nine in number, regardless of how organized, to contribute to somewhere between 65 percent to 75 percent of the company’s success. The other 25 percent to 35 percent contribution usually comes from only one key or top-ranking HR executive. This person, in truth, carries more responsibility than any other executives, but often only two-thirds of the compensation of the others. HR obviously is shortchanged. This is nuts, if not inequitable.

However, I consistently hear from HR professionals that we must continue to pay ourselves by market value and conditions. It’s in this area that the concept of "contributing to the bottom line" would help. As long as one adheres to inequitable pay for contribution, HR will continue to undermine its profession. First, by not having internal equity, HR professionals will be perceived by their peers as not having as much value. Accordingly, the HR executive’s opinions, thoughts and ideas may not be seen as a value-added service. Second, HR leaders must affirm their own value. They must know what contributions they make to the organization. They must know they’re offering something irreplaceable—something that shouldn’t be compromised at any price. How much do you value yourself? Can you explain your value to your company? Are you willing to explore ways that can validate and illuminate your contribution?

Workforce, May 1997, Vol. 76, No. 5, pp. 109-110.

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