CEOs say HR is critical to business success: 5 critical changes

This is undoubtedly the most challenging time – ever – for HR. It is also the best. With so many business issues driven by people, talent and workforce, it’s time for HR to finally have a seat at the table.

However, despite the obvious demand for HR’s role to create and sustain a positive and productive future of work, this is not automatic. Five shifts will pave the way for HR to have a brilliant impact and thrive.

The good news is that 89% of CEOs say HR should play a central role in the business, according to new data from Accenture. The bad news is that only 45% of CEOs say they are creating the conditions for HR to successfully lead business growth.

It is clear that there is room for improvement.

5 shifts for HR Impact

The opportunity facing HR is significant.

#1 – Not just at the desk, embedded throughout the organization

For decades, HR’s mantra has focused on the desire and imperative to be at the table. And this makes perfect sense. After all, the ability to lead, influence, solve and support requires knowledge of the problem and contact with other influential people.

But more than that, HR must be integrated, embedded and intertwined with the organization. Knowledge of all types of areas will help create a comprehensive strategy. And a strong network of all kinds of influencers will also help HR professionals expand their influence.

Accenture data shows that top-performing CHROs are four times more likely to have strong relationships across the organization, and especially in the C-suite. They are particularly likely to have mutually influential relationships with the CEO and senior finance, technology, and operations leaders. Additionally, they are more likely to have strong leadership skills in general.

Social capital refers to the resources, knowledge and abilities that people acquire through relationships with others. It is a constructive network and a network within and across the organization built on collegiality, trust and reciprocity. They are relationship channels that provide opportunities for mentoring, learning, counseling and recognition. When individuals and organizations have strong social capital, it contributes to positive feelings about work, as well as greater efficiency.

The greatest impact within an organization comes from the social capital of connecting and bridging. HR professionals serve well to develop relationships within teams and groups (bonding social capital) as well as across teams, bridging across the organization.

Think of the best networks as superhighways, not dirt roads. Gravel roads represent the path of one or two team members traveling within and between teams learning and building relationships. But even better are superhighways where multitudes of HR professionals are connected across the organization, wide and deep – raising awareness of issues, contributing as business partners, solving problems, and having room at multiple tables.

#2 – Don’t just focus on people, focus on performance

HR employees are known as people. This creates a strong brand and identity of the profession. But it can also be a distraction among business leaders who believe people issues are soft.

Of course, the last few years have shown that issues related to people are anything but insignificant. When the best performers leave the organization, when it’s hard to find great talent, when people don’t come to the office despite the leader’s decisions, when people demand new work models or when it’s challenging to inspire and motivate people – the whole job pays attention. Or should.

HR professionals can increase their impact by clarifying the connections between people and organizational performance. For business results, it’s best to start with people and do the right things for them. While the connections may seem obvious, investing in people-related solutions, technology, and strategies can require strong business cases—something HR professionals are best placed to do.

Accenture’s data revealed that the highest performing CHROs had better skills in both financial and business acumen – clearly indicating the need for deeper business knowledge and investments that result in the highest returns.

In addition, research shows a strong connection between happiness, engagement, productivity and performance. In the future of work, measurement systems will need to appreciate the connections between them and their mutual interrelationships—and recognize and reward people accordingly. HR can lead the charge in organizations that are moving from measuring how much to measuring a broader set of more meaningful outcomes for people and organizations.

#3 – Not just comfort with technology, but use of technology

Executives prioritize technology and data. Their number one and number four (out of four) main areas of focus for growth over the next three years are improving performance and productivity through data, technology and artificial intelligence, and improving the digital core of their companies. That’s according to a study by Accenture.

In addition, the research found that when companies were able to leverage technology, data and people, they benefited from a superior productivity premium of 11%. That compares to a premium of just 4% when they leveraged technology and data without including people’s experiences.

Organizations’ core competencies are increasingly overlapping, a prime example being the need to understand the nature of technology, data, and people—and how they interact. HR professionals increasingly need to develop not only comfort with technology, but also digital literacy and digital agility, as technology emerges and changes at lightning speed.

HR must embrace and leverage technology within the department, but more than that, HR must understand how technology will change the nature of work, workers, and the workplace. Technology will encourage new ways of communicating, collaborating and performing. It will make some jobs unnecessary, it will create other jobs and it will replace parts of others. HR will be key in ensuring people’s skills are developed and that their work continues to be meaningful.

Data reinforces the need. The most effective HR managers have the best technology and data skills.

#4 – Not just a hybrid job, a fulfilling job

This period will be the most significant reinvention of work in our experience—based on new levels of awareness and a global dialogue about the nature of work. The debate usually boils down to when, where and how people work, and the hybrid is certainly here to stay. Different regions, industries and workplaces will have a range of hybrid models and options, but flexibility and choice will be the hallmarks of future work.

But more important (and more interesting) is the dialogue about why people work, what they do, with whom they work and for whom they work. This is a dialogue that HR can lead.

The talent revolution (that is, the mass resignation) is the best evidence that the way work has happened has not been successful for many people. Going forward, there is an excellent opportunity to consider (and rethink) how to ensure that work has purpose and meaning, how to create the conditions for connection among colleagues, and how to foster learning, stretching and opportunities for growth within the work experience. In short, HR has an opportunity to ensure that work is fulfilling and inspiring as an important part of life, not something to be avoided. HR is uniquely suited to ensure this dialogue remains at the forefront of boardrooms, C-suites and all levels of the organization.

The data is aligned with this opportunity. CEOs reported that their number two and three top focus areas for driving growth over the next three years are accessing and creating top talent across the organization and fostering connectivity and collaboration across the organization. And the most successful HR managers boast particularly strong skills in strategic talent development.

#5 – Not just a strong culture, a sustainable culture

Unfortunately, the narrative around culture has become negative. While business leaders are demanding people come back to the office and recognize a strong culture as a reason, people are hearing culture speak as code for an experience that benefits the company and its bottom line, not the employees.

HR professionals have the opportunity to ensure an understanding of culture because of its power to create the conditions not only for organizational success, but also for great experiences for people. Culture can be a positive center of gravity for people that provides energy and common purpose. The most constructive, productive and profitable cultures boast inspiring vision and clear direction from strong leaders balanced with opportunities for people to participate and influence. They are characterized by clear processes and systems balanced with adaptability and agility in dealing with changes.

HR is in a unique position to hear and see the entire organization and to connect the dots in terms of how supply chain challenges can be linked to new approaches to recruitment. Or how obstacles in the market are related to opportunities for development or career growth among employees. This comprehensive view can enable and empower both people and cultures. And again, HR is positioned to have a huge constructive influence.

The data suggested that the best HR leaders were prone to systems thinking – the ability to see patterns and connections and to identify and solve problems in organizations.

This is the time

A quote from Charles Dickens is particularly appropriate: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The recent past and immediate future can be particularly challenging for HR professionals. But these are also great times for opportunities. A CHRO at a Fortune 200 company recently said in a webinar, “If you’re an HR professional and you’re not at your desk today, you never will be.” It’s a great time to face tough challenges and lead the organization to new solutions.

These are not easy times, but they will be the genesis of critical changes in the way organizations create value and in the meaning of people’s work and experience. Good times, important times.

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