Last week was a first for me. I was asked to present on human resources measurement to an audience of finance professionals. My session sold out two times in a row, and I had the chance to share the HR perspective on measurement with over 160 finance folks. I had not expected the session to be so popular.
The outcome was mixed. I attracted three additional requests to speak, which says there is something interesting for finance folks in understanding how HR is measured and how to get behind the value that people bring to the business.
At the same time, I could sense a group of people leaving the session having wanted to be able to put people measurement into a simple box, record this as a consistent item on the balance sheet, and get back to the serious business of money.
The experience left me with some clear insights. The first is that HR had better get on with understanding and delivering on the measurement of the people side of the business and the efficacy of the way people are managed, etc. It was clear that if HR does not get on top of this, then finance will continue to be the department delivering the data, and more importantly, the interpretation of the data, to the executive table.
The second is that the distance between HR and finance is shrinking but is still there. I was impressed, engaged and really encouraged by the HR sophistication of many in the audience. They might have been qualified finance professionals, however their experience and expertise would have sat well within an HR group. The opportunities for a tight linkage between finance and HR are huge. If mutual respect and shared understanding can be developed between these two previously divergent functions then businesses will have the opportunity to really thrive, by putting the money and the best people together to drive success.
The last insight is that data really is the way to build a bridge between HR and finance, and then strengthen the flow of collaboration and ideas. The response from even the skeptics in the audience to clear charts and evidence-based assertions was questioning and engaging, instead of dismissive. You might not achieve agreement this way, but if you can establish credibility, engage in dialogue to build a common understanding, then you can make progress.
Our first foray from the subjective world of people into the objective world of finance was a success. If this is a bridge you wish to build inside your organization, then data and HR-related metrics might be the Trojan Horse that will enable you to get through the gates.
Ian J. Cook