Culture eats strategy for breakfast

by 18 May 2009

The term “HR strategy” is falling out of favour, as people planning becomes integrated with business planning, according to an HR expert in the UK.

Management teams should expect the HR leader and senior colleagues to be proactive in anticipating and analysing organisational challenges and also be on the front foot with proposals and solutions that are both realistic and imaginative, said Andrew Lambert, co-founder of the Corporate Research Forum.

“They should also expect to co-create the people strategy and key people processes,” he said.

“Those HR leaders who have truly embraced responsibility for organisational development are engaged with their CEOs in tough reviews of the people performance of each part of the organisation.”

Such HR leaders are showing the way in designing and evolving structures, driving collaborative behaviour and dismantling of silos and ensuring that the entire HR function is focused on improving organisational effectiveness.

A recent Corporate Research Forum report, Configuring HR for tomorrow’s challenges, found that it is now clear that the day of the “order taker”, where HR just responds to decisions made by the CEO and other directors, belongs firmly in the past.

“There are few decisions that do not have substantial people and organisation implications, and it is essential from a risk management perspective for there to be top-class input from a skilled, confident humanresources/organisational development C-suite member,” Lambert said.

“As a consequence, the need to be both a ‘businessman’ and a functional expert is critical, for the credibility of both the HR director and the function in general. The HR director’s role in shaping culture is at least as important as the contribution to strategy – given the growing acceptance that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.”

Lambert said most senior managers and HR directors are bored with long-standing debates about HR’s failings, even if these are still being fuelled by surveys. More positively, there are now some good role models pointing the way to the future.

“While many CEOs are still not quite sure ‘what good looks like’, they are far more attuned than they used to be about the importance of culture, engagement and their employer brand – as this affects perceptions of their own performance too,” he said.

“When their patience has worn thin, many CEOs have turned to senior colleagues to inject some business awareness into HR. However, most ‘non-professionals’ don’t work out particularly well as HR leaders – it’s not their core interest, and the lack of deep knowledge is ultimately not helpful for the function’s work or morale. Ultimately there is no substitute for someone with both attributes.”

As a result of the recession, Lambert also said that there are undoubtedly HR leaders who are being more cautious, which includes being wary of investment in upgrading their own function.

“If so, we argue that in most circumstances these are not HR leaders of the future. Imagination is needed to sustain morale and performance, retain quality, and stimulate the innovation that will enable their organisations to re-emerge as winners. Now is the time to get fit, cut out the dross and burnish the gold,” he said.

“The priorities remain performance, talent management, facilitating change and maximising engagement – but these clearly need to be tailored to straitened times and getting the best out of fearful people.”

See this issue of HR Leader for part two of the HR leader of the future

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