Contrary to the speeches and articles coming out of the HR community about why they should have a seat at the top table it seems that instead of progressing towards the boardroom they’re moving progressively to the back door.
The McKinsey Quarterly posted the results of a survey today that shows the steadily declining influence of the HR function. The survey asked seven questions of HR professionals and Line managers and the differences in the responses are startling. For instance, while only 25% of HR professionals agreed that “HR lacks capabilities to develop talent strategies aligned with business objectives”, 58% of line managers thought that was the case, a gap of 33 percentage points.
In response to the statement “HR is not held accountable for success or failure of talent-management initiatives”, two-thirds of line managers agreed, while two-thirds of HR professionals remained in denial.
The problem is that HR thinks they should be the judge of how effective they are. It’s a bit like asking Gordon Brown to decide whether he is doing a great job as PM. The fact is that the only people who can judge the effectiveness of HR are its clients – line managers.
When presented with the statement, “HR doesn’t provide enough support to line managers”, 43% of the HR people agreed (that’s a step in the right direction) but 58% of line managers ticked the yes box, so there are a few more steps still to be taken by HR.
This has echoes of last year’s survey by The Economist and Deloitte which concluded that, although CEOs were starting to see people management as a strategic priority, they weren’t looking to their HR managers to help them with it.
When I commented on that survey, I asked the question, “What if HR never becomes strategic?” If the McKinsey commentary is right, the picture could be even worse. Not only might HR not see its status increase, it could, as Robin says, find itself demoted.
This paragraph sprang out at me.
When companies do make talent a priority, they often fall into another trap: focusing narrowly on HR systems and processes, which divert attention from the place where most of the obstacles lie: people’s heads. “Habits of mind are the real barriers to talent management,” one financial-services executive confided.
Dealing with these performance blocking habits is difficult though and it usually involves having uncomfortable conversation. It’s a lot easier to focus on systems and processes because they are tangible, or at least they appear to be so. When faced with the problem of performance management it is a lot easier to redesign the appraisal system than to find out why managers are failing to manage performance effectively. A re-launched appraisal process, supported by flashy new documentation, computer tools and rah-rah training courses, gives HR a big tick in the box. Supporting, coaching and challenging managers to help them manage performance is a long hard slog that may take a while to produce results, yet it will have more impact on the way people are managed than yet another new HR process.
This McKinsey report is more evidence that HR functions are applying themselves with gusto to the wrong things.
Update: Dan McCarthy adds his two-penn’orth in a similar vein.