Human resources professionals can’t think outside the box if they don’t know what the boundaries are, says AHRI Chairman Peter Wilson AM (FCPHR). Practitioners need to look, listen and learn from the HR research that’s already out there.
The eyes of human resources glaze over when another piece of HR research like the Boston Consulting Group’s ‘Creating People Advantage’ (2014) lands in front of them. This study states that the top five priorities solving HR challenges are:
- attraction, retention and development of talent;
- leadership development;
- creating a learning organisation;
- managing change; and
- work life balance.
Human resources has known for some time that these are the key questions, and now it seeks practical advice to make headway.
However, 2015-16 might well represent an important turning point in both HR research and its practical value. AHRI and our US and UK counterparts – SHRM and CIPD respectively – have published studies in the past 12 months that reveal what human resources and business leaders see as the main priorities, main HR challenges, and current efficiency and effectiveness.
In the latest 2016 study from SHRM, maintaining high employee engagement and developing next generation leaders are seen by human resources professionals as equal top priorities, scoring about 39 per cent. Business leaders outside the HR function place these two priorities of engagement and leadership delivery in their top four, but add in the need for a competitive set of benefits and remuneration.
In a statement of pragmatic savvy, 70 per cent of HR professionals surveyed by SHRM believe the greatest challenge is to deliver critical HR processes efficiently and effectively, at a time of constraint on resources, or ‘doing more with less’. Beyond that, HR sees the need to move itself from transactional to transformational excellence.
These results confirm AHRI’s own recent research that the human resources function won’t be credible in “developing HR strategies to encompass and execute the evolving business strategies,” unless the basic people processes are effective and are delivered at low unit cost. C-suite business leaders will not take the human resources function seriously unless we accept this conditional sequence.
That said, it’s clear that the top HR professionals in the US, UK and Australia do understand this dependency, and perform in accordance with that understanding.
Unsurprisingly, another challenging priority for both HR and business leaders is getting to grips with IT and the new digital world, and also harnessing IT capability for the human resources function.
Just behind that is pressure to use big data filters and human capital analytics to comb through what people are thinking and saying about working for your organisation, and then to use that information to improve engagement and performance.
So the evidence is that recent HR research results are becoming much more forensic and practical in nature.
Take the case of engagement, which is the Achilles heel of most organisations. The annual international Gallup Survey assesses that 20 per cent of people at work are positively engaged, 60 per cent are neutral and 20 per cent extremely disengaged.
In Australia it’s marginally better at 25/60/15 per cent. So there is a huge productivity potential in getting some of the 60 per cent neutral-zone dwellers into feeling positively engaged about their work. Bersin, writing in the 2015 Deloitte review, advises that disengagement is best tackled by finding the reasons for it and then focussing on fixing the big issues. Don’t get lost in the minor data. All research indicates education of leaders on modern leadership principles is at the headwaters of making a sustainable turnaround in negative engagement.
Groysberg and Slind, writing in 2015 Harvard Business Review, concluded that traditional communication channels are breaking down in their effectiveness and efficiency. Today’s leaders need to use social media to get the message out, and find out what their employees think. Last year, in my interview with David Thodey in HRM, the outgoing and very successful Telstra CEO, he said that he communicated with his employees through internal portal Yammer. David surmised some sessions left him feeling a little bruised and battered, but also that he got great insights, and responded to them.
So, human resources is now accessing better research material to connect the dots. That’s important because you can’t make the next step towards innovation by thinking outside the nine dots, if you don’t first of all know where they are.