HR should step into the 21st century

“ Anneke Verschuren is an international senior HR-director. She is surprised about the lack of innovation in Human Resources. “The annual routines are a waste of money and energy. Make managers responsible for their own people, so that HR can focus on Strategic Issues.“

Successful organizations are characterized by a distinct vision and consistently execute a strategy in a culture that supports the vision. These organizations have roadmaps based on market analysis, they listen to the customers and are innovative by bringing new products and services to the market. Meanwhile the HR organization focuses on annual reviews, salary increases and succession planning or development programs. They repeat the same annual routine year after year with some improvements in the procedures or information systems. It is usually a waste of money, energy and disconnected from the organizational goals.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, but I don’t see HR catching up with this pace. Most HR departments are still working in the same way as when we introduced the term ‘human resources’ in the 90s. They use the same methods to assess individuals and positions, to categorize people in functions and boxes. It keeps them and managers very busy. The big question is what are they doing with all this information and outcomes? Because with new technologies and globalization, the normal office working day has changed dramatically. For a lot of companies and positions the normal 9-5 working day is history. Job descriptions are useless because your job will change as rapidly as the world of your customers and products or services. Companies are looking for people with the right skills and competencies and the flexibility and potential to grow and develop in a dynamic environment. Employees feel more connected to their personal development than with a company. However, HR sticks to their systems of detailed job descriptions, job evaluation, annual reviews with rigid procedures and fixed formats and procedures for the personal development of people.

Sometimes HR is involved in major changes within the company, such as reorganizations or mergers and acquisitions, but it’s still not standard that they are involved in the decision-making when it comes to the future (changes) of an organization. It’s usually re-active execution of plans that have been already decided. They execute the change management and integrate the compensation and benefits, while actually they should have been involved at the table when a company makes decisions of acquisitions and mergers to analyze the synergy and added value with respect to employees and cultures. There is a huge risk of not achieving the intended synergy and effectiveness if this doesn’t happen. And I seldom hear about HR strategies that involve acquisitions and mergers where they analyzed a targeted company to provide the talent they need in the future which would give them a competitive advantage or would save them a lot of money and time by not having to hire or develop new employees. Strategic decisions are taken by market analyses, financial reviews and product roadmaps. But if it comes to the effectiveness of the organization it’s the employees who are key. So why not take into account culture, communication, development potential, competitive advantages on the labor market and management style while looking at possible acquisitions and mergers?

Managers should primarily be responsible for managing their people. And this should not be done through annual procedures imposed by HR. A good manager knows exactly what talent he needs now and later. Managers are the experts of their team and need to know how to support and encourage their people, so that they continue to develop, contribute and stay engaged. They know who does and who doesn’t perform now and in the future. They are the ones managing their competencies and develop, hire and let go of the people they need to achieve their goals. HR can support programs that will help them to review and select global talent within and outside the company. But it is a management task to know what talent is necessary to achieve the business objectives and how to engage their teams.

The added value of HR is the contribution they can make to define and implement a strategy by giving the company a head start on the competition because of the right choices with respect to managing their potential for the future in the organization. An essential part of this strategy is defining and developing the right management style. Continuing to implement and maintain the mandatory annual processes and tools is killing the freedom and flexibility managers need to manage their teams. Moreover, these processes are often misunderstood and/or not used and are therefore nothing more than a bureaucratic obligation. Kill the annual forced assessment exercises. Let managers make their own decisions when they are needed. If you have the right managers and give them enough responsibility and authority, you do not have to be concerned that talent is not spotted or people who don’t perform will remain not performing.

Few HR organizations really provide an essential contribution to the strategic plans of the organization because they don’t have an innovative and proactive attitude. Innovative HR will address changes in the market and technology and determine the direction for key success factors like culture, management style, potential development, communication, and branding. A modern HR organization has a clear vision and a strategy which they also own. They understand the market and know how to differentiate from the competition to give the company an advantage. They are able to translate this to concrete plans that they execute and implement in such a way the organization embraces their strategy. HR can help companies to create a workplace where people run the business strategy, feel engaged and perform their work with passion. It’s time for innovation and to welcome the 21st century in HR departments.