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By Michael R. Losey, SPHR, CAE
October 2004

From the October 2004 issue of Linkage's Link and Learn eNewsletter, which circulates to over 70,000 HR practitioners, organizational development practitioners, leadership development practitioners, leaders and managers who are Linkage clients and have opted-in to subscribe to this newsletter.
In 1996, noted business writer, Thomas Stewart, the current editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review, article for Fortune magazine suggesting that HR was bureaucratic, ineffective, added very little to organizational success, and thus should be "blown up!"

Much has transpired since that article was published. At the recent, Mr. Stewart led a program for the top HR professionals from the Fortune "100 Best Companies to Wrk For." This fact suggests that both Mr. Stewart and HR professionals have come to the conclusion that HR is here to stay and that the profession has an opportunity to do even more organization

An Old Issue: Understanding the Body of Knowledge
In most organizations, HR professionals have often felt unprepared to cope with many of the challenges of driving enterprise-wide change and may lack the capabilities and skills required to effectively act as a business partner to the organization. This situation will only improve when CEOs and other senior-level executives realize that:

  • Not everyone can effectively perform the HR function (i.e., it takes a certain set of inherent capabilities to be a high-performer in human resources)

  • HR is a profession requiring very specific knowledge and skills

  • The HR executive must know the mission, values, industry, and basic strategies of the organization as well as they know HR

  • HR professionals must fully develop themselves as whole leaders in order to effectively manage cross-organizational initiatives

It is important that today's HR managers take action to continuously improve their own skills and capabilities in order to perform effectively and contribute to the organization's growth. Often, this will mean exploring bodies of knowledge outside of their current sphere of influence or responsibility and preparing for future trends and challenges.

Keys to Today's HR Success: Learning from Our Past and Anticipating the Future
One of the most important requirements for HR leaders is to accurately anticipate the future and predict how today's dynamic rate of change might affect their accountability. Without the capacity to recognize and accurately plan for changes in the business landscape, any actions taken to cope with change cannot be proactive - they can only be reactive and much more costly.

Societal progress is enhanced by significant paradigm shifts, backed by strong leaders and their followers -- HR managers might look to the past for examples of cultural signals that change is on the horizon and take note in order to prepare, adapt, and even preempt any negative effects of change. There are many examples of how an administratively-focused HR profession failed to accurately anticipate and cope with the future. And of these examples, none was a more serious failure of the HR profession to see and fully gauge its impact than the civil rights movement. Civil rights leaders fought for fair employment practices and affirmative action for many years, including landmark movements supported by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman to eliminate discrimination in defense plant hiring and establish integration in the U.S. military and civil service jobs (respectively). However, despite the best efforts of passionate champions, the human resources function and other business leaders of the period did not fully appreciate the importance of meaningful, voluntary, and affirmative change.

A possible explanation is that, at that time, HR was more tactical, more administrative, and more concentrated on specific visible threats such as the next collective-bargaining agreement. For whatever reason, it is now clear that HR was far less strategic than it needed to be. HR practitioners missed many signs foretelling and predicting the future issues of the workplace and their profession. The result was that most companies did precious little to prepare for not only the Civil Rights Act but much of the subsequent legislation and competitive developments that have helped to frame today's responsibilities of the HR management profession.

This failure to accurately anticipate the demands of social, economic, and global changes disadvantaged U.S. companies and cost businesses dearly. Worse, such delinquencies touched many lives. Great harm was done to ordinary people, denying opportunities and delaying progress.

Given the accelerated changes occurring in today's workplace any HR leader desiring to make a strategic contribution must look to the future with more foresight and accuracy than ever before--and this is not an easy task. One HR executive may suggest one thing while another may suggest exactly the opposite. But who is correct is not the issue. The issue is that HR leaders must examine and challenge the future in an orderly way. Only then can HR do a better job than they have done in the past.

Nor is the answer more HR professionals. The issue will be better HR professionals. Anticipating the future and challenging current assumptions must be part of the HR executives' job just as it is in other key management positions. Failure to do so will result in being held captive by the present, failing to see the future, disadvantaging personal performance and the success of the organization.

Michael R. Losey, SPHR, CAE President, MikeLosey.com
Former President & CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Mike Losey is the co-Chair of the 2004 Linkage HR Leaders Summit and will be presenting a Keynote session on the topic of "Tomorrow's HR Management" at this year's Summit, which takes place this October 17-20, 2004 in Palm Desert, CA. You and other senior executive colleagues in HR may qualify for a VIP Complimentary Pass to this year's HR Leaders Summit. For more information on the Summit and the VIP Pass, please visit the Summit website at: www.linkageinc.com/hrleaders.

Note: Any publication of this article must include the following reference:

This article includes selected excerpts from the edited work of Mike Losey, Dave Ulrich and Sue Meisinger scheduled to be published by John Wiley & Sons in the Spring of 2005 and entitled: The Future of Human Resource Management 64 Thought Leaders Explore the Critical HR Issues of Today and Tomorrow .

Copyright © 2011 Michael R. Losey. All Rights Reserved.
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