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.