If you didn’t make it to the AHRI national convention back in August, you will have missed hearing the chairman of the AHRI board, Peter Wilson, and me. Together, we opened the convention with a duet.
No, we didn’t sing, but we gave a speech in four parts. Our intention in taking that unusual step was to mark the significance of AHRI’s commitment to setting a bar for HR practice in Australia.
Peter’s two parts involved outlining the environment in which business is now being conducted in the contemporary world. It is a story in which disruption, complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty are now bywords, and a readiness to litigate is axiomatic. In short, it is an environment that demands significantly greater professional capabilities and behaviours from HR practitioners than ever before.
In the second part of his speech Peter told his personal story. It was an account that revealed his surprise entry into HR when the then ANZ group chief executive Don Mercer asked him to take over the HR function at the bank. At the time Peter was a senior executive in strategic planning and economics, with HR the furthest thing from his mind.
But Mercer told Peter that he saw the big questions that would decide the future of the bank were centred on its people. He wanted someone to lift its people culture, plan for the future workforce, and mitigate the risks in failing to manage people well. Mercer acknowledged Peter’s absence of a background in HR and sent him to the US for a fast-track exposure to high-level HR thinking and practice, which is where he first met Dave Ulrich among other leading HR scholars.
My role in the duet was to bring to the notice of delegates the cover of the Harvard Business Review that month. To the visual accompaniment of a bomb with a lit fuse, the July-August cover bellowed the following headline: “It’s time to blow up HR, and build something new”.
To be frank, it was somewhat confronting to see this headline from such a prestigious source on the eve of going into a national convention at which many of the top people in the Australian HR profession were going to be present.
My options were to ignore it or deal with it, and I chose the latter. The way I dealt with it was to note that there were two parts to the Harvard headline: the first is to put behind us what HR is now doing or failing to do, and the second is to construct something new in its place.
Although an optimistic reading of the cover headline can be inferred from the assumption that HR is too vital a part of business to get wrong, the consensus is there is much to do in order to reaffirm the standing of true HR business partners, and to build the capabilities of those who have not yet become the HR partner businesses want.
AHRI understands the urgency of re-setting the standards bar for the HR profession, and is doing something about it.
The decision by the AHRI board in 2014 to make a major commitment to HR certification was the first step towards achieving that objective for the profession in Australia. With the vision and strategy now set, we hope you will join us in ‘building something new’.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the November 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘It’s time’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.