On My Way To Something Else

Time creeps up. After five years blogging for Canadian HR Reporter, longer on my own blog and twelve since early ‘retirement’ from being an active SVP HR, it feels like I’ve run the course HR-related topics, hopefully not once too often. My goal has been encouraging people to look at HR strategy for the powerhouse it is and driving toward the tremendous impact I’ve seen it have in what used to be rare situations. I think others are now creating and writing quantities of valuable examples. Anyone who wants to find what’s most effective has lots of sources.

Consequently I’m wrapping up with the intention of finding new endeavors and learning in new fields, with excitement at not entirely knowing what those will be. That’s innovation and leadership – lead yourself first, look for new opportunities, learn constantly. That’s what I most enjoy and am incredibly fortunate to have the freedom to pursue.

Looking at the state of HR, it’s encouraging to see a growing number of organizations, though still far from the majority, where HR is not just ‘at the table’ but actively creating the table with colleagues on senior teams. More CEOs ‘get it’ that ever, taking on the lead HR role, just as they do the lead finance role, the lead marketing role and even occasionally the lead IT role. Being CEO keeps getting bigger, but taking the lead in people areas means finding, coaching and building teams that can help distribute the work that past CEOs attempted to do alone – thinking up every idea, every strategy, making every decision of scale in their organizations.

Slowly senior executives in and on the way to the top job are learning to involve and engage wide-ranging, increasingly diverse talent to draw far wider creativity to what used to be solely their task – taking the organization forward. The proof has been re-calculated and re-confirmed thousands of times now that people collaborating results in innovation and continual innovation results in three to 20 times the financial results. I shouldn’t have to say that again, but until everyone sees it, every example is valuable in reinforcing it. There are lots out there now making the same points.

Within HR itself, the basics remain basic. There are highly complex rules – labour relations, health and safety, human rights, privacy, social media issues – constantly evolving, constantly needing to be learned, modified and kept up with. But more than that the strategic role has evolved from theory and basic understanding that command-and-control leadership is a dead end to operationalizing new approaches at every turn. It’s easy to say collaborative leadership or coaching leadership, but difficult to implement. It isn’t something you can put in place and forget, not a ‘program’ of the month, week or year. It is working every day to make teams more effective and organizations better environments for maximum autonomy, security and, as a result, creative invention.

What disturbs me is to see new techniques in HR appearing, only to be used for age-old incorrect purposes. For example, Big Data and analytics is a growing need, puzzle and opportunity for HR and some are making progress while others simply want to apply it to the oldest question of all – how fast can you get me a body to fill the immediate vacancy I have because I didn’t engage and retain some critical individual. A small business article recently promoted HR ‘strategy’ as ‘recruit, hire, retain’ (at least ‘retain’ is making it into the mix more) and ManpowerGroup advises HR to ‘evolve’ into becoming better marketers and supply & demand managers… so we can fill those difficult vacancies. None of my hesitation over these is meant to suggest recruiting isn’t a valid HR function, but it isn’t the be-all, end-all, nor is it, by itself, the most critical.

We often say to businesses – don’t make earning dollars the prime goal, but rather build a great organization with a product everyone wants and money will follow. In HR the advice translates to don’t make filling that urgent vacancy the prime goal, but building a great organization that people want to enter, want to progress in… and make progressing easy, fun and rewarding so your bench is always full of ‘almost ready now’ candidates for each higher position. It’s the ‘almost-ready’ candidates that try harder, are willing to learn faster and know they must, who will save your bacon in the long run, not the new guys off the street who don’t know and don’t care as much what you stand for but just need a job with a bigger pay cheque. Ideally they’re also looking for a spot that’s more engaging than the last place they had high hopes for, but after a while quite a few cease caring altogether about that because they don’t expect your company to be any different. Counting vacancies and labour pools isn’t as valuable as measuring to find out what works in your culture to engage and get everyone learning and contributing. But creative uses of Big Data are more challenging that playing the basic numbers game.

So, you see, I could rant on and probably will from time to time, here and there (haven’t decided what exactly to do with my personal blog yet). I think of my life path as seven careers. In each case I left completely and moved on – engineering design, math teaching, guidance counselling, union leadership, HR… or at least it’s time to move on from HR, clear the decks, start something quite different, more or less unknown at this point. From each former career the lessons and skills have proven immensely valuable in future ones and I expect this will be no different. From time to time I still tutor math, offer guidance, lead protests, try to design strategies for people and I still enjoy every one of those things, contradictory as they may seem to some. Somewhat sadly I always miss the people, but have great memories. It’s not that we don’t hope to keep in touch, it’s just that new careers mean totally new groups and there aren’t reasons to connect, so we just keep in mind everyone’s still out there doing what they do. And occasionally we do reconnect, at least indirectly, today through names we see on LinkedIn or similar sites. I’ve had a great tine, trust you will continue to as well.

All the best.

Quotes to Ponder

To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.

— Pearl S. Buck