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The Great Opportunities in HR
David Creelman

As we look ahead to the year ahead it’s worth asking, “What might I do that would truly make a difference?” The answer will depend on your own skills, position and organization. However, let me suggest some areas you might look at.

1. HR Technology
There is no question that technology is important for HR and becoming more important all the time. Your company will benefit from having someone who understands all aspects of selecting and implementing HR technology. You will personally benefit from being an expert in this area. This is a learning goal rather than an outcome goal. You may not have an opportunity to select or implement a system this year, but you can certainly take the opportunity learn as much as possible by talking to vendors and visiting companies that have implemented HR technology. Your boss may not be supportive but if so that is an issue to be worked around, not something that should stop you.

2. Pivotal Talent
One way to do strategic HR work is to help a business unit answer the question posed by John Boudreau and Pete Ramstad, “Where would an investment in talent have the biggest impact on the execution of strategy?” It’s the sort of question a line manager can understand. HR can help guide the conversation through the different job families and then on to whether a strategic opportunity is best addressed through better recruitment, job redesign, training, coaching or some other HR intervention. This approach gets away from HR trying to sell HR programs to line management. It also gets away from asking “What would you like HR to do?” which will not generate a thoughtful answer. Insisting managers think seriously about where an HR intervention will have the biggest impact will build an important strategic partnership between HR and the line.

3. Creating a Human Capital Report for the Board
Boards and CFOs know they should be paying more attention to human capital. If HR can produce a short report that is helpful to the Board then it will greatly raise the visibility and credibility of the HR function. The key is to produce something helpful, even if it is just one page, anything that leaves the Board saying, “Thank you, that‘s something we needed to know but didn’t know to ask for.”

4. Revamping Leadership Selection
Many experts involved in executive recruitment are skeptical of the ability of companies to select the best leaders. Too often top management recruits people who are similar to them or charming in interviews. Competency models don’t do enough to counteract these tendencies. Follow Bob Hogan’s advice and implement a system that gathers a lot more detailed data from peers and subordinates. It could lead to a much better leadership team at your organization.

5. Revamping Leadership Development
The best companies - like GE, Pepsi, and Goldman Sachs - have well established programs for developing leaders. If your organization is not at that level then it would have a big impact if you did some work in this area. Some of what the big companies do is expensive, but good leadership development need not be. The single most powerful development tool is to have the top leaders meet regularly with high potentials to talk about their work. If the top leadership is heavily involved with the careers of high potentials then these people will get the right developmental assignments and the right coaching.

Any of these five activities could have a big impact on your organization. Of course these are not the only high impact actions - you probably can think of something even more important in your own situation. However, the lesson is to think about what would make a big difference, not just how you are going to get through another year on the job. By the way, this kind of thinking, understanding the bigger game, is something best done with a coach - even if the coach is just your friend. Not only will focusing on an ambitious goal do good for your organization, it will energize you for the rest of the year.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research providing writing, research and commentary on human capital management. He is investing much of his time in helping organizations report on human capital.

He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in the US, Japan, Canada and China.

Mr. Creelman can be reached at dcreelman@creelmanresearch.com


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