A key premise of Fearless HR: Driving Business Results is that a profession endeavoring to change must confront its past before embarking on its future. For the HR profession, you don’t have to look very far to see remnants of a somewhat checkered past. Despite numerous recent examples of HR creating contexts in which talent flourishes and organizations prosper, HR is often viewed from the historical perspective of being an administrative function that worries more about rules, process and compliance than improving the business. It is easy and comfortable to rely on these past perceptions, but at what cost? In writing Fearless HR, I felt that while many people generally acknowledged these past views, they were not being rigorously analyzed. And left unchallenged, these biases become even more engrained in corporate memory, thereby constraining and limiting future possibilities.
It turns out that artists and writers have understood the importance of reconciling the past, not just for years but centuries. The philosopher George Santayana has famously said, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” In The Tempest, the bard himself wrote “What’s past is prologue” in The Tempest in 1611. And in 1882 Mark Twain introduced us to the inept detectives who failed to spot the elephant in the room standing right in front of them. Fast forward to the 21st century when Charles Duhigg reminded us that old habits and stereotypes are hard to break (2014). Our brain seeks easy and familiar paths, and these connections impact behavior more than we consciously realize. Without acknowledging and addressing these past perceptions, we are simply insuring their continued existence.
Part I of Fearless HR addresses five historical perceptions of HR and compares these views to the findings from over 100 distinct research studies. Since publishing the book, I have talked about the Fearless story to different groups within HR; and it seems that these groups also have elephants in the room. In particular, the Recruiting and L&D functions—probably the most highly developed talent functions in organizations—have their set of biases to confront.
Recruiting. According to the Boston Consulting Group (2015), recruiting has more of an impact on company revenues and profits than any HR function. An earlier study documented that excellence in recruiting contributes 7.8 percent to the market value of a company (Pfau and Kay, 2002). Without access to capable and able talent, a company’s ability to grow, innovate and out-compete its rivals is severely constrained. This is especially true today as the credibility of a company’s commercial brand is inextricably tied to its talent brand.
For recruiting to drive business results on a consistent basis, it must move beyond simply responding to requisitions thrown over the transom and the restrictions that have inhibited its role in the past. To become more of an architect and builder, a new recruiting vision needs to be constructed that shows a different way forward. And the first step in this process is acknowledging the reasons that past perceptions pertain and then holding these views up to the latest research and best practices.
The following is a list of six historical perceptions of recruiting that should be addressed so that a new path forward is possible. As with many biases and stereotypes, there are elements of truth in these statements; but they also reflect partial or outdated views of reality. Get your team together to analyze these perspectives, review relevant research, and prepare a different future vision.
- Recruiters are just order takers.
- Recruiters are only interested in filling seats and closing requisitions.
- Hiring takes too long and is a convoluted process.
- Hiring is very subjective and it is easy to make poor choices.
- Recruiting measures are too soft and subjective.
- Recruiting is a dead-end career.
Learning and Development. The L&D function is chartered with building individual and organizational skills and capabilities in a very dynamic world. In fact, the number one issue faced by global CEOs is the volatility and pace of change faced by businesses today (HBR, November 2016). When this factor is combined with other data points such as the half-life of knowledge being 4 to 6 years in most disciplines, 20 percent turnover rates for CEOs, average job tenure of 4.4 years, and 47 percent of current US jobs are at high risk of computerization; it is clear that organizations and employees face a stark choice: continue to improve or fade away. The ability to learn quickly, sometimes called learning agility, is not a nice to have skill, it is an essential quality today.
Learning and development opportunities are also a critical part of the relationship between employees and companies. This new mutual compact, as described in the book “The Alliance,” is essentially: Help make our company more valuable and we will make you more valuable (Hoffman, Casnocha and Yee, 2014).” Without new and challenging learning and development opportunities for employees (and especially high performers); this new compact disappears, trust waivers, engagement plummets, and costs soar.
So L&D is more important than ever before? It certainly can be, but it must first address its past as well. At least some people still hold views that L&D is a perk, takes too long, doesn’t work and is not a good investment. So long as these views go unchallenged, progress will be uneven and halting. Get your team back together and address these six historical perceptions that stand in the way of L&D being a cornerstone of progress and stronger business performance.
- Training is the same as development.
- L&D programs may be enjoyable, but they don’t impact job performance or business results.
- L&D programs take too much time and actually decrease productivity.
- We always offer the same L&D programs, regardless of whether they work or not.
- In competitive talent markets, why should we develop employees who might leave.
- L&D measures are too soft and subjective.
Old habits and mindsets die hard. The past is often more comfortable than an uncertain future; but let’s not use yesterday’s logic to address today’s and tomorrow’s issues. We must have the courage to talk about what others may not want to address. The elephant is the large, grey animal often in plain sight.