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Why Everybody Loves to Hate HR

Did anyone else catch the cover story from the summer Harvard Business Review: “It’s Time to Blow Up HR”? I cringed when I saw it. It’s easy to pick on HR, the magazine points out, because we don’t like to be told what to do or how to act… especially when the business impact isn’t discernible.

But an excellent HR team can deliver value, and I’m not just talking about heading off lawsuits or hiring a barista. No, the HBR article highlighted examples of where and how HR teams were able to:

  • improve the ways groups talked to each other to speed idea generation and implementation
  • create performance measures and incentives that aligned with company values
  • define the way news and goals were communicated so every employee knew the importance of their work

Here are just a few ideas from the articles that you can implement at your own agency.

Resist “shiny objects” in favor of programs that address business needs. 

Often HR must draw ideas externally, from leadership forums or industry best practices and trends. It’s easy to get stars in the eyes and introduce a bunch of unconnected programs, without defining success metrics.

Instead — as the global HR team did at Juniper Networks — talk to company leaders about what they need to grow, problems that plague teams, missing resources, etc. One such exercise led to the realization that 920 employees — or 10% of Juniper’s staff — touched a big customer’s business. And that customer was complaining about communication mishaps that led to quality breaches. Well, no wonder! HR instituted new protocols for information sharing and decision-making… leading to account growth, increased revenues and client satisfaction.

Ensure program impact by identifying top performers and influencers.

It’s hard for new ideas to take root when there’s no sense of ownership. Simply unveiling a new employee program at a town hall doesn’t guarantee adoption. Instead, beta test the idea with a smaller group of influencers… not just the management team or top talent, but employees at all levels that connect teams and promote sub-cultures; people that are well-liked and emulated. If they believe in a program, they’ll help promote and integrate it. Uptake relies on more direct and routine conversations, rather than a top-down approach.

For example, during a leadership crisis that resulted in three CEOs in three years, Juniper discovered that less than 50% of employees could articulate the company strategy or their role in achieving it. HR addressed this in two ways: An “executive roadshow” deployed to convey goals and vision, followed by more intimate and regular strategy conversations led by company “connectors.” Viola. The same survey questions were administered again revealing that over 80% of employees understood the corporate agenda and their contributions to it. (And therein lies another valuable learning: Define how you’ll measure success.)






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