Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Project Social: Managing HR Talent

During a recent chat my project social partner Dave Ryan and I agreed that HR certification doesn’t automatically confer expertise in all the myriad facets of HR and a new post topic was born! Be sure to check out Dave’s latest post about the many hats HR must wear.

HR is like housework: There are things you have to do every day, like dishes and picking up toys. There are some things you’d like to do to make your house look better but you never have time, like re-painting the kitchen or sewing curtains. Finally, there are things that would increase the value of your house - like upgrading the bathroom - but cost too much.

When it comes to HR, compliance is like doing the dishes, i.e., dull but necessary and you’re never done. You also have to pay people - so that's also like dishes - but being strategic about it is more like hanging curtains, i.e., a nice idea but who has time? Finally, talent management is like re-doing your bathroom, i.e., it creates value but costs time and money to do it right.

HR is often criticized for not being strategic but they face several real challenges:
  • The first challenge is lack of information. Due to disparate HR systems and insufficient analytics tools it’s not always easy to get reliable information about the workforce, i.e., who works here, what they're doing, how much they cost, whether they have right skills and how they're performing. Without this information it’s hard to build a business case for strategic HR.
  • The second challenge is specialization, which Dave recently wrote about over at Xpert HR. A benefits expert is not typically a recruiting expert, for example, and a labor relations specialist is not a talent manager. Of course, even specialists may have broad knowledge in other areas but their area of specialization tends to be where they live.
  • The third challenge is time. Many HR professionals don’t have time to be strategic because their time is taken up with tactical stuff like paying people and avoiding lawsuits. Even if we disparage that excuse, managing talent isn’t something you do in your free hour between NHO and performance reviews - it’s a full-time job. Ditto for benefits, recruiting, labor relations and pretty much everything HR is responsible for.

HR talent needs to be "managed" just like any other kind of talent. That means providing the right tools and information, offering training where needed and staffing appropriately.

Just like anywhere else in the organization.


  1. Hi Laura

    Great post! I love your analogy of HR being like housework. How much we need to be concerned about being strategic versus doing all of the everyday things plus a bit of planning really well is another question.

    I'd also like to add another 'housework' analogy if I may, particularly as it relates to being strategic. If we stopped procrastinating and constantly thinking about doing the housework and how much time it will take and just got on and did it, we would be finished with it all an awful lot quicker. Equally rather than always thinking about how we should create the space to think and plan and be strategic, we would be much better off putting aside small amounts of time sooner and getting started with it!

    I speak as a procrastinator who is trying to change behaviour, both in housework and taking time to think through and implement the big HR changes ;)

    Great blog - thank you!

  2. Very true - we can ALWAYS be doing more than we are doing. If I really wanted to I could probably find time to sew those curtains... Thanks for bringing up a great point!

  3. I agree. Many think that because HR is the one enforcing the rules- they are exempt from following them themselves. HR needs to keep a clear view of the things they can change just as much as the other departments. You are right - having the right tools available to do so is key.


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