This month I want to discuss the last of the five AHRI pillars that I began writing about in February.
Pillar five is about AHRI the enabler. When I think of the fifth pillar I am reminded, not that long ago, of a panellist who ruffled feathers at an AHRI convention. A question about what CEOs wanted from HR was put to the panel of business leaders. Fred Hilmer was on the panel as the then chief executive of Fairfax. When it came turn for him to respond, the first thing he said was that he would never choose a person from the HR department to run HR. What he wanted, he said, was someone who knew the business, not just someone who was a specialist in what he saw as a somewhat rarefied set of HR practices.
While not everyone in the audience was stunned by that answer, many were, and Hilmer received a hostile reception for having been so forthright.
Some in attendance quite properly pointed out that Hilmer’s problem stemmed from his own recruitment failures. If his HR department employed people who didn’t know the business, that’s ultimately his fault, they argued. He’s recruited the wrong people.
While there is merit in that argument, in hindsight I see Fred Hilmer’s diplomatic crudity as a blessing. The fact is he is not alone in his view about HR. There are many chief executives like Hilmer who share his perspective, and I believe we are indebted to him for alerting us to that reality. It was a sobering reminder that if chief executives are ultimately responsible for recruiting the right people into their HR departments, it’s our responsibility to inform them about who the right people are.
I am pleased to report that recent investments in enabling technology and infrastructure have been approved by the AHRI board, and are putting us in a position to better meet that responsibility. We are now able to say to you, our members, that if you tell us who you are, we will tell the market who you are and what you can do. That message applies in particular to our certified practitioners, because as I said in my March column on pillar 1, they are the professionals under our new enriched certification program whose merits as business partners we can confidently advocate to employers.
As a further assurance under the pillar 3 imperatives that relate to robust research, intellectual rigor and judicious advocacy, we have just completed a research exercise with our partner Insync that is designed to test the present alignment between what HR practitioners believe business wants from them, and what CEOs tell us they want from HR. We will be reporting on any gaps that come out of that research at the August convention.
Armed with this intelligence, we can tell employers that certified AHRI practitioners have achieved a measurable standard of appropriate knowledge and skill, and have also, through our new capstone unit, demonstrated their capability as HR partners to the business. We can tell the Fred Hilmers of the business world that our certified practitioners know what they’re doing and are able to get on with doing it. We can say to CEOs: “Make sure you employ these practitioners, induct them into the business, and be assured that you will not need to look far afield for your next HR direct report. She or he will talk your language and be one among you.”
Let me conclude this series of columns on our pillars by reaffirming that they are not simply nice thoughts about what the HR institute can do for you. In what is an increasingly problematic global business environment that places mounting expectations on what a human resources partner should be doing to boost the competitive sustainability of the enterprise, the AHRI pillars stand as a call to arms.