Who is in charge of HR functions?

Guest Contributorby Dr. Christopher Lee | Posted | Performance Management

Who is in charge of HR functions?

At the dawn of the century, McKinsey and Company released the now infamous "War for Talent" report. Each year their findings are affirmed and extended. In 2012, they argued, "In today's knowledge-based economy, the caliber of a company's talent increasingly determines success in the marketplace."

The Institute for Corporate Performance (I4CP), reports that the five domains of high performance organizations are: strategy, culture, leadership, talent, and market.

There is also a movement afoot to appoint chief culture officers at major corporations after the likes of Tony Hsieh of Zappos, the late Steve Jobs of Apple, and leaders at Google and other organizations report that a large part of their success has been creating a culture where employees thrive.

All around us are numerous articles, books, research reports, and exemplary examples that argue that culture, talent, and performance are pathways to the holy grail of organizational success.

The role HR has to play

When I see these reports in popular media, trade magazines, and academic journals, all I see is: HR function, HR opportunity, and HR imperative.

Why are these ideas on the minds of our CEOs and not on the minds and tongues of HR professionals? The truth maybe that, while HR is the most important function in an organization it is not always the department that is performing HR functions.

Too often we are on the sidelines reacting to - not in - the game of business. Our daily focus and conversation should be on helping the organization succeed - make money or achieve its mission.

HR as a strategic partner

When HR is too focused on the HR function and outcomes, we lose sight of our real purpose: championing high performance and leveraging human potential on behalf of our organizations. The HR function must reclaim the most strategic of HR functions: performance - organizational performance. It starts with a strategic mindset.

Why does HR flounder in its role as a strategic partner? There are at least three reasons.

In my last post, I noted that there is considerable confusion about the role and function of HR. In later articles, I will argue that we might have lured the wrong people into the HR profession and indeed that there may be three different HR professions lumped under one umbrella.

If having the right philosophy about HR and having a strategic mindset are prerequisites to good HR, many of us will have to rethink our career, or at least the way we work.

No organization with two or more employees can succeed without an HR function. The first chief HR officer is the entrepreneur who hires one other person to help them work. In doing so, the entrepreneur has to ask themselves:

  • Does this employee have the right talents?
  • What kind of environment will help him or her thrive? and
  • How can I best direct, support, and encourage this new staff member to contribute to the business?

In other words, the entrepreneur has to be concerned about talent, culture, and performance.

Rethinking why and how we define, develop, and deliver HR programs and services

For HR to be a strategic partner we have to rethink why and how we define, develop, and deliver HR programs and services.

It starts with a strategic mindset that is oriented toward helping the organization achieve its mission, vision, strategy and goals. Do we send the right messages to applicants, instill the right cultural principles during new employee orientation, and build appraisal systems that acknowledge, value, and cultivate each employee's contributions?

The imperative for Human Resources professionals is to focus on the business and the mechanisms that support culture, talent, and performance management.

Experts agree that one's competitors can buy, copy, or replicate an organization's equipment, buildings, products, services, methods, and resources. However, the source of competitive advantage is in the people themselves and their collective know-how.

Who else, other than HR, has the most impact upon the levers that drive this advantage? Even Steve Jobs acknowledged that the most important thing he created was Apple the company, not the Mac, iPod, or iPhone.

Your turn

I. Who is most responsible for an individual's performance in organizations?

A. Each manager

B. Executives


D. The individual

II. Why do you think HR is the most important function in organizations?

Please leave your responses in the comment section below.

Related reading: Learn more about Chris' thinking on the strategic role HR has to play by reading Strategic human resources is key to organizational success.

Strategic Human Resources is Key to Organizational Success


Strategic Human Resources is Key to Organizational Success


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