From a wide range of commentaries and readings lately on business, leadership, HR and future trends, a few nuggets kept recurring that are worthy of thinking about again.
- Change is happening so quickly, not only is it nearly impossible to keep up, even imagining the future is becoming more difficult.
- When it comes to business, both short-term and long-term performance is critical, with emphasis on long-term goals and commitments to create the foundation for guiding near-term actions. It is not an “either-or” situation.
- And it is always vital to understand what happened in the past in order to apply what can be learned from that as you plan and move forward.
In businesses today it is no longer enough for HR professionals to only demonstrate total knowledge of their discipline. Today’s HR leaders must be engaged in the business, its markets and also understand the world setting. Equally important is being willing to step outside of your comfort zone to constantly be gathering new data to inform how you lead and contribute.
The most enlightening commentary in this regard (that I apply to HR) was a recent interview with Andrew Liveris, CEO and Chairman of Dow Chemical Company on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS. Liveris leads the world’s largest chemical company that is much more than just a chemical company today — the result of understanding his business in the context of the world and the needs of his diverse customers.
He sees his role as spending 90 percent of his time on the road consuming new data about what is going on in order to equip his leaders to lead their businesses and to be able to make the right decisions “in the moment” about “the right things” to do. How else is it possible to keep up with change and remain viable, competitive and successful? (This informative interview covers a variety of business topics and I encourage you to view it.)
In a somewhat related article at the Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman report on their analysis of five years of research involving 360-degree feedback on HR leaders across the globe. When compared to business leaders in other functions “…the data suggest that the typical HR leader is seen as six percentile points below average.”
HR leader strengths were in areas of developing and coaching others; building positive relationships; role modeling and having functional knowledge and expertise (in HR) — much as you would expect of professionals focusing on the discipline.
Weaknesses were seen as focusing internally rather than externally; lacking strategic perspective; not anticipating and responding quickly to problems; and resisting stretch goals — the last two being related and perhaps tying back to the Dow CEO’s comment about making decisions in the moment about the right things to do.
Some of the best leaders in the world (from the study) were from the HR function. What set them apart from other HR leaders “…was their performance on the key competencies that were often weaknesses in HR, beyond HR’s traditional strengths.”
Shorter, faster business cycles and increased complexities in business are going to require continuous changes to structures, processes and systems and will put increased pressure on staffs and culture to survive “…at the boundary of chaos and control…” — as some futurists describe it. Inherent will be the increased rate of obsolescence of professional knowledge (because of the rapid change on all fronts), which will increase the need for continuous education and life-long learning. If HR is to survive it will need to be immersed in all of these aspects, and learn from them in order to lead.
Getting a “seat at the table” never has been just about understanding the “body of knowledge” that is HR. It always has been about competently and confidently performing well beyond that level and in other disciplines — with the ability to anticipate future needs and develop good options. That’s when it is possible to make the “right decisions in the moment” rather than reacting and having to recover later, while losing ground in the process.
To briefly tie back to the three themes we started out with, the only way to keep up with change is to be engaged with it constantly. And while it may be necessary to modify short-term actions (influenced by change), long-term objectives should be nurtured. Finally, history is being created more quickly today than ever, offering something new to be learned at every juncture.
Anticipating the future and understanding your options definitely applies to how you as a HR leader plan, staff, develop and lead your own talent, and how you prepare for projects and critical HR contributions to your business. Consider us a trusted partner to help you achieve your human resources goals. We work exclusively on HR business solutions, which have been our specific focus in the Bay Area since 1989.
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