Last night, I was presenting to an MBA class at the University of British Columbia. For interest’s sake, I started with the question, “what are your perceptions of HR?”
The answers I got back were not surprising:
“The momentum killer”
“A waste of time”
“A cost centre”
“Disconnected from the business”
Given that the majority of future executive leaders still hold these negative views about the human resources function, there is clearly a lot of work to do in changing these perceptions. One of the really tangible ways that these views damage HR is in relation to funding and staffing levels. Anecdotally, and through the BC Human Resources Management Association’s own qualitative survey data, we have seen the workload for HR increase significantly over the last three years whilst the resources available in terms of dollars and staff have declined. This situation can only hurt the function further, as under-investment leads to lack of delivery, which leads to a perception of ineffectiveness, which leads to less investment, and on and on.
My role with that MBA cohort was to give them insight into the analytical approaches to HR and how this can help shape business value and demonstrate the effectiveness of the HR function. After an hour and a half, with charts, correlations, tables and examples, many of them leave with a completely different view of HR’s impact on the business. A few of them even start believing the HR is a crucial function in leading a successful business.
The fulcrum against which the change is leveraged is a 20-minute exercise where the participants review one set of real data across a range of HR metrics. The data clearly shows that the organization is under-performing on its profit potential and that HR is a cause of some of the excess costs. The key practice which is hurting them is hiring a young workforce that is voluntarily leaving, in droves, before they have been with the organization for 90 days.
At the start of the class, three people identified themselves as looking to go into an HR leadership role. At the end of the class, nine people lined up to arrange a coffee to talk more about working in the function.
What altered the perceptions in this group? Having had this experience across multiple groups, the answer is simple. It is data. More specifically, it is how objective facts demonstrate that HR drives results and holds some of the levers of business success. If you need to change perceptions then good data is one of your best levers.
Ian J. Cook
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