By Greg Holden, Business Writer & Social Media Manager, IRI
As an American with a non-American spouse, I hold that unique position of being called out when I am not speaking proper English. In its place, I am told, is “American Midwest English,” a form of easily understood mumbling—if you also happen to be American. For instance, I was asked once if my car was in the parking lot outside a friend’s place where we were gathering, I responded with a shrug, saying that it “should be.” Only it came out, as it does for many Americans, “shu-be.” My non-American spouse, who was there with me, smiled and sang the words “shoo-be-doobie-dooo.” She was very amused with herself.
We can’t help the way we speak, it’s who we are. The same applies to many aspects of our lives. We build a worldview filled with assumptions, experiences, and, hopefully, a good dose of facts and evidence to back up the positions we take. But we can be wrong, and frequently are. What matters is whether or not we recognize our errors and work to fix them. In the realm of talent management, the topic of this article, there exist two sides of the equation—HR and the employees they hire—both of which are still operating on old assumptions about talent management.
So in honor of my wonderfully American English, let me lay down a few “shu-be’s” about the ways our research says talent management could change to create a more perfect world.
HR “Shu-Be” Proactive
Think about your human resources department. Now stop for a minute and don’t let stereotypes cloud your view but instead really think about the important role they fill at your organization. Believe it or not, HR, as a business entity, came into being less than a century ago. It was built in response to increasing government regulations brought about by waves of employee strikes in the early 20th century. The purpose for the department was to ensure regularity of pay for employees, to monitor issues of compliance, and to respond to employee grievances. Not much has changed since then, but HR does typically perform two other functions today: recruit talent and ensure office morale. So it’s time to ask: Is that enough?
In her article in Research-Technology Management (RTM), MaryAnne Gobble, the journal’s Managing Editor, offered up a new spin on the role HR could play, or perhaps “shu-be” playing. She notes that around WWII the topic of innovation was exclusive to the “boys in the lab,” making note that it was largely a technical endeavor in sealed off corporate or government labs and staffed entirely by men. Today, innovation is much more. It is not necessarily technical, and the demographics are diverse and no longer exclusively male. Today, everyone innovates. Every. One.
Gobble continues, “Companies no longer look solely to their research laboratories for innovation—if they even maintain dedicated labs—but instead seek to develop cultures that foster innovation across the workforce. That makes finding, training, and keeping the right people more important than ever, not just for the daily functioning of the organization but for its very survival. Suddenly, human resources— the dreaded, much-maligned HR department—is (or should be) at the center of the quest for innovation.”
Ignoring that she missed an opportunity to use my new word, the point she makes is significant. In a world defined by rapidly accelerating product delivery timelines, where everyone innovates, and everything is connected and open, HR can no longer afford to be the team of compliance and employee grievance counseling. The role of talent recruitment is a strategic tool that HR almost exclusively wields and it is time they start using it. Organizations “shu-be” hosting futures forecasting sessions with HR teams to help navigate the best possible futures for their companies and how strategic talent acquisition can guide the company onto that path.
HR “Shu-Be” Strategic
The word strategic was used in the above section intentionally. HR “shu-be” serving a strategic role in your organization. If it isn’t, it’s time to start envisioning a better use of their time. But to become strategic, all the data comprising critical functions needs to be stored in unified system to get the most effective use out of it. Strategic HR management (SHRM) is not a new term, but it’s a concept that has started gaining ground at many firms. SumTotal, a provider of strategic HR solutions, wrote recently of a very necessary step in transforming HR into a strategic office: the creation of an integrated, ongoing talent development and training program.
They wrote that because HR is typically seen as a transaction-oriented cost center, the need to consolidate their resources is often overlooked. That means employee training and skills gap analysis data points can be housed in different systems or departments separate from payroll and separate from employee onboarding programs. This is chaos! SumTotal writes, “Think about it: Your critical talent processes—such as employee onboarding, setting of employee goals, assessing performance on those goals, and aligning development or incentives—stretch across the organization and throughout the lifecycle of each employee. It makes sense, then, that unifying these elements will deliver a greater impact on performance—and on your organization’s bottom line.”
HR “Shu-Be” Looking at Ethical Worldviews as Much as Tech Competencies of New Hires
Hire ethical, trustworthy people. This seems like a truism. As in, it’s obvious when hiring somebody that you don’t want that individual to be untrustworthy. In the words of my generation, “Like, duh…” or something along those lines. But it’s more than the obvious statement about hiring trustworthy people. It’s about hiring ethical people with global mindsets. In other words, people who don’t just get absorbed in their own parochial lives. Rather, you want people that take on projects with bigger scope, attempting to address a global issue, and do so with carefully considered ethical positions in mind.
This is about mindsets, not about technical ability. The HR department, as I’ve already mentioned, is strategically positioned to influence how the skills gap in a company gets addressed over time. Through that ability, HR can shape and mold the company along lines they see fit. Which means HR must have a carefully considered ethical position of its own; otherwise, what else is directing their long-term hiring strategy? For this reason, HR needs to become more sensitive to ethical issues shaping the company’s innovation landscape and learn to hire individuals who fit that ethical mindset. Interviews are no longer just about the technical competencies of the individual, but also about how that individual sees the world and how driven they are to achieve their goals through that worldview.
Richard K. Miller, President of the Olin College of Engineering, wrote about this in RTM recently. Talking about “Engineering 2.0,” Miller mentioned that engineers need to be trained in more than just technical and scientific competencies. Among the traits needed among the engineers of the future, he lists: empathy and social responsibility, global awareness and perspective, ethical behavior and trustworthiness, and broad systems thinking. His article is worth reading in full. In it, he discusses the evolution of engineering education. In the mid-20th century, he writes, engineering was forced to undergo a change that made math, physics, and chemistry staples of the core curriculum.
Today, Miller says, another change is needed that adds the soft skills listed above (i.e. empathy and social responsibility, global awareness and perspective, ethical behavior and trustworthiness, and broad systems thinking, among others) into that expanded core curriculum. Just as mid-20th century engineers had to broaden their understanding of science to succeed in industry, so today do engineers need to broaden the way they approach the world generally to succeed in the future. HR managers would be wise to understand this trend and to begin incorporating it into their hiring strategies.
Final Thoughts: What YOU “Shu-be” Doing
The study of human resources is ongoing and nebulous. Study after study emerges each year and the complexity of the issues, and the distance most people have from their own HR function, means few take the time to understand or incorporate recommendations like those found above. The concept of SHRM, making HR strategic, is rapidly developing with several firms offering consulting services around this idea, and universities beginning to offer SHRM degree specializations, even as part of an MBA program.
The Industrial Research Institute (IRI) is currently conducting a fast-paced, deep dive into talent management, shouldered almost entirely by R&D management practitioners at large firms. IRI also runs a program called Networks where small, niche groups of R&D leaders gather to discuss specific topics twice a year. One of these Networks is called the Human Resources Network (HRN). Both of these represent opportunities for you to get hands-on experience with cutting edge research, performed by real practitioners, into the best uses of strategic HR management.