“No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” No, it′s not a quote from an embattled CEO of a automaker/large bank. It was in fact written by Sophocles in the 5th century BC. Confusing the messenger and the message has a long history!
Last week, Dana Gardner wrote a tweet about how HR are the new kid in the firing line: “You know how there′s general low regard for lawyers, or investment bankers? Newest despised role: HR.” Ouch! But so it goes, HR takes the brunt of the unpleasantness when it comes to cutting and downsizing.
So, after an exchange of few more tweets, Richard Veryard got in on the act. He pulled up a piece from Fortune Magazine in 1996 on HR, which still makes for very interesting reading. Richard expanded in his blog post.
In amongst all of this there is a very interesting debate about the role of HR and the software systems that are used in HR. Here are a few observations:
The ‘96 piece from Fortune could have been written this week. HR has changed a lot since ‘96, but I guess many people, including many HR professionals, would say that it hasn′t changed enough. Back in ‘96, the Internet came in box called Netscape; people in the US used “beepers” (cell phones were mostly bricks, to say nothing of iPhones); and the HR software was “new” client-server technology designed primarily for back office users.
To a very large extent the software that HR departments run today dates from that era. So the ability of HR teams to change what they do for the business is circumscribed by old software tools.
HR is already, and will continue to be, revolutionised by the popular and pervasive social networking concepts. One powerful example of this is the amazing recruiting tools provided by LinkedIn, but certainly Facebook and twitter and their progeny will continue to richly influence how people work together in organizations. The exact marriage of these informal social graph technologies with the formal system-of-record HR solutions will be very interesting to watch.
But the biggest challenge I see for HR remains how it becomes more strategic to the business. Most companies know less about a critical person or team than they do about the pieces and parts going into a product on the production line. HR tools need to change so that HR can provide the hard data (not just subjective metrics) necessary to enable all employees (whether they are in management position or not) to evaluate how much of an impact they are making to the business—understanding who is in the workplace, what they′re doing, how much they cost and the associated business results.
Current economic woes are not the making of the HR team; however there is a huge onus on the HR team to be an integral part of the solution that helps get their company growing again. This new focus for HR will inevitably require the HR team to look at the tools they use to support the business and will require HR to think how those tools bridge the span between a worker supply chain and a social network. The good news is that in todays world, it′s very likely that the HR team will be able to change those tools, do a better job and still save their company money!