Drew is responsible for the development and execution of all marketing initiatives at The Predictive Index and leads corporate branding, global demand generation, and product marketing.

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by Drew Fortin

Why do people dislike HR? No matter what type of business leader or senior manager you talk to these days, the majority seem to think that HR is more of a nuisance than a helper to their business function.

This month’s cover of Harvard Business Review magazine dons the headline “It’s Time to Blow Up HR and Build Something New.” In an article entitled “Why We Love to Hate HR…and What HR Can Do About It,” Peter Cappelli, contributing author and Wharton professor, claims that “The most vocal critics say that HR managers focus too much on “administrivia” and lack vision and strategic insight.”

I can personally relate to Cappelli’s comments having hired, fired, laid off, back-filled, reviewed, screened, interviewed, re-org’d…you get the picture. I too have viewed HR’s role as more of an administrative function with little insight into my department’s objectives, strategy, and tactics we’re using to accomplish them. Although there is obviously a need for policies and some “administrivia,” it can sometimes feels like HR is a barrier standing in the way instead of a strategic partner and ally.

Is all hope lost for HR? I’m not so sure. Here are four ways I think HR can reclaim a seat at the table and have a measurable impact on its organization.

1. Introduce data and metrics into everything you do.
No matter what the function – finance, marketing, product or technology – most departments have key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to measure their impact on the business. Speaking for marketing, we look at the number of leads we drive through our pipeline, what it costs to drive them, their quality, and the satisfaction of the sales teams calling on them. Although there are always a few items you may deem qualitative, there must be something quantifiable you can use to measure your department’s impact on key initiatives. HR professionals can rally and reclaim control by being the reference and authority on measuring metrics that contribute to telling the story about the business' performance against objectives. Peopleinaid.org has great content for HR professionals on how they can ensure their department is aligned strategically and what metrics to use in Metrics for Measuring HR Effectiveness.

2. Yes, Yoda you be.
HR was originally a personnel department created for handling complaints and disputes of employees and quickly morphed into a function dedicated to making people and organizations more effective. In its current state, HR is essentially the creator of policies and enforcer of workplace behaviors without any true authority to enforce them. Management needs a partner who truly understands the company, product, culture, and a wizard for understanding workplace behaviors. HR has the opportunity to be viewed as Yoda here. Behavioral assessments for instance can allow a business to realize what drives, motivations, and needs its workforce has, what roles or career paths are best for employees to seek career development opportunities, and how best to establish a productive relationship between manager and employee. Tools like the Predictive Index® behavioral assessment can allow HR professionals to serve as the resident expert on analyzing employee behaviors, truly understanding what makes their employees tick, and develop strategies for maximizing human capital.

3. Adopt technology…fast
These days, it’s not about what you know, but how resourceful you are. HR professionals need to become masters of their domain. Yes, knowing how to create pivot tables in Excel is amazing (although this is pretty much a MUST HAVE for anyone in the working world these days), but it’s more of staying up to date on all the recent advancements in science and technology in the human capital space that will allow you to have a big impact. The learning never stops. And, although the best practices you learned 10 years ago may seem applicable, chances are they are no longer the best. In order to stay on top of your game you have to dedicate time to reading and using new technology. As a marketer, I would die in my role without staying up to date on the latest marketing trends and reading my favorite blogs, subscribing to daily newsletters, and allowing a couple of hours each week to entertain sales pitches from vendors that are calling on me. By doing this, you will force yourself to keep an open mind and understand how new technology and scientific advancements can apply to your industry. And the next time a member of your executive team mentions a new initiative or introduces a problem you will have some recommendations at the ready of how HR can help.

4. Become an industry generalist
Creating and maintaining policies that ensure a code of conduct and expectation of workplace behaviors which are in line with your organization's core values is a necessary evil. But I don’t think it should be what defines HR. It’s simply a means to an end. That’s the last thing management wants, and therefore the last thing with which HR wants to be associated. In order for HR to be a valued member, its members must understand the products, solutions, business model, and challenges faced by businesses in their industry. They need to truly understand the duties of the role, why it exists, and how the role exists in other similar businesses. This is obviously expertise that takes time to acquire.

What do you think? Too much for HR to handle? Maybe the HR function within organizations is due for a big change. Maybe in the future it won’t be called HR. Some people think that HR is already dead and it has been replaced by “Talent”. I know each of the four topics above could easily be its own conversation. What say you?