Help HR’s Grasp Equal Its Reach

HR readily admits that it falls short of playing a leadership role in leveraging key emerging trends. That may not bode well for your organization.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

The Robert Browning poem that contains those lines, “Andrea del Sarto,” makes me think of challenges facing many human-resources departments today. In the poem, Del Sarto, a 16th-century painter, describes his love for his wife but laments that he is limited by the mundane duties of earning money and supporting her, while his more famous (and unmarried) contemporaries da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rafael live for their work with greater passion and spirit.

Similarly, the demands of day-to-day HR may be crowding out the focus, passion and spirit that are necessary if the function is to take a leading role in helping organizations capitalize on opportunities offered by such emerging trends as big data and gamification. CFOs should be concerned about that, because it could hinder their organizations’ quests to maximize productivity and be competitive.

In fact, CFOs may be partly at fault. A significant reason why HR tends to fixate on the day-to-day is its belief that the finance function tracks and rewards only things like cost reductions and reliable reporting. But HR’s engagement in these trends has been proven to have multimillion-dollar benefits for some large companies.

Research by the Center for Effective Organizations suggests that when it comes to leveraging those and other key trends, HR’s “grasp” falls well short of its “reach,” or its aspirations. The current role HR leaders play is far less than the role they believe they should play.

We convened a consortium of 11 leading companies, each of which nominated about 20 HR leaders to respond to surveys on the following nine emerging trends:

• Globalization: Integrating world economies through the exchange of goods, services and capital.

• Generational diversity: The presence of many different age groups among workers, citizens and consumers.

• Sustainability: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

• Social media: Online networks and two-way communication channels that connect users in the virtual world, establishing new relationships that expand users’ networks and facilitate user participation in interactions and exchanges.

• Personal technology: Mobile platforms such as smart phones, laptops and tablets, future technology such as wrist devices and Google Glass, and the apps that support them, seamlessly and constantly connecting people and web-based content.

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