Human resources professionals currently have a unique opportunity to show business leaders just what they are capable of, says AHRI CEO Lyn Goodear.
I recently came across a 1993 column by former Australian Human Resources Institute National President Graeme Andrewartha. A South Australian by origin, Graeme was calling on readers to recognise the “larger responsibility in the next 10 years, not just to our members but to the employers in our members’ firms and the wider community”.
Those words remain a salutary reminder to present-day human resources practitioners that, while it’s useful to impress HR colleagues with one’s professional expertise, what finally matters is the impression made on leaders looking for reliable partners to bring business acumen to the people strategy in their organisation.
From where I sit, a constant refrain that keeps presenting itself is the two-pronged idea that business leaders believe the vital factor that drives innovation, productivity, culture and customer satisfaction in their enterprise, is the organisation’s people. That’s the first prong.
The second is that the same chief executives and agency heads are happy to tell us when human resources is outperforming, but too often they are expressing disappointment in their human resources function.
The good news is that business leaders regard the potential for the HR function very highly. The test for HR professionals is whether they can match the expectations with a commensurate level of performance.
It’s been a slow build, but a critical mass of business leaders have now seen what good human resources can do for the competitiveness of their enterprise. At the same time, there are still many business leaders who have a function they call human resources, but have never seen good HR in practice and so wonder what the hype is all about.
What this convergence presents is a one-off opportunity to show them what good HR is and where to find highly competent HR business partners. That’s the opportunity AHRI took hold of in 2014 and is embodied in the long-overdue imperative of HR certification.
To get a perspective on that imperative, I ask myself the question: Who would not want to employ highly trained and certified practitioners?
That question was answered on a few occasions in recent times, one of which was last month when the Victorian Independently Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) handed down its long-awaited report on the scandal within the Victorian Education Department.
It involved a group of executives using the construct of ‘banker schools’ to allegedly process around $6 million of invoices for personal spending on extravagances such as overseas travel, expensive household furnishings, and lavish alcohol-fuelled boys-only lunches.
Evidence to the IBAC suggested a culture of entitlement that was “pervasive and of long-standing.” Among other things, this involved intentionally selecting ‘banker schools’ that employed business managers who were inadequately credentialed so that those people would be unlikely to question the sham accounting practices that were routinely used to process the fraudulent invoices.
Similarly, emerging evidence from the 7-Eleven scandal revealed an entrenched practice of executives constraining office workers who questioned apparent under-payment practices and visa abnormalities. These office workers were told not to ask questions above their station, and they were threatened with dismissal if they persisted.
In both of these cases it appears the corrupt practices of the offending executives were made possible by ensuring that staff were employed who were not sufficiently qualified to either see what was going on or, if they did suspect foul play, any queries they raised were not taken seriously. In the best organisations, the HR function is taken seriously, but in many others it is not. The HR certification standard we have now set enables us to assure Australian business leaders that AHRI certified HR practitioners are people whose expertise and acumen, if taken seriously, will make a vital difference.