June 11, 2018 – From people analytics to employer branding, HR departments are evolving at breakneck speed to meet recruitment and retention challenges. No longer is HR about record keeping and rote rule enforcement. Today’s human resource leaders play a critical role improving business performance through employer branding, strategic recruitment and retention, and talent optimization.
A new white paper study by the Atlanta-based Lucas Group provides a framework to guide an organization through essential considerations when hiring forward-thinking HR leaders. The report, “Building the HR Department of the Future,” found that in a rush to modernize HR teams, organizations are hitting a familiar stumbling block: employee recruitment.
“The team tasked to lead your company’s talent development cannot overlook its own talent needs,” said executive senior partner Valerie Taylor, who authored the study. “Restructuring HR from a division that exists primarily to monitor compliance to a division that is an independent value generator is a major shift. Deciding on the new leadership for this team requires careful, intentional reflection and internal stakeholder alignment.”
Before initiating a candidate search, Ms. Taylor said organizations should start with a comprehensive needs assessment to determine internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats.
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“A failure to engage all stakeholders from day one means candidate requirements may shift mid-search as the position itself evolves,” Ms. Taylor said. “Without an inclusive conversation upfront, it can be difficult to find candidates who are the right match for a company’s immediate and long-term needs.”
While the challenges facing every business may vary, the ability to meet them successfully comes down to just one factor: talent, said Ms. Taylor. “The group tasked with hiring visionary talent for the entire company must be able to recruit the right talent for its own team.”
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HR teams must hire forward-thinking talent, but what this means is different for every organization. “The right VP of HR for a mid-sized business preparing for a market pivot may be very different than the chief people officer at a Fortune 100 company,” the Lucas Group report said. “Oftentimes, organizational leadership is not fully aligned on whom this right hire is, because they are not sure how they want their HR teams to function, or what needs must be addressed.”
Historically, HR departments have lacked the essential resources and leadership buy-in to take a vocal role in business performance improvement. This compounds the problems they face today. “Empowering HR departments to honestly describe what’s really going on within an organization and provide actionable change recommendations requires a shift in thinking,” said the report. “Company leadership must acknowledge that the challenges of today’s talent marketplace go beyond recruitment.”
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Restructuring HR from a division that exists primarily to monitor compliance to become an independent value generator is a major shift. “Deciding on the new leadership for this team requires careful, intentional reflection and internal stakeholder alignment,” said Lucas Group. “Rushing into the candidate search process without first having these conversations is a recipe for conflict and dysfunction.”
A failure to engage all stakeholders from the start means candidate requirements may shift mid-search and the position itself evolves. “Without an inclusive conversation upfront, it can be difficult to find candidates with the desired experience and skills,” the study said. “This leads to a lengthy search process and, in some cases, may result in a hire that is still not the right match for a company’s needs.”
Failure to align internal stakeholders not only lengthens the search process but also can hurt a company’s employer brand. “When organizations disagree internally on next steps, they often leave candidates hanging,” said Ms. Taylor. “This lack of communication and perceived mismanagement can alienate current candidates and hurt a company’s reputation throughout the marketplace, making its future recruitment more difficult.”
In such instances, companies should resist the urge to press ahead with a talent search. “Assessing internal needs first minimizes the risk for missteps and lays the groundwork for a seamless, efficient hiring process,” said Ms. Taylor.
The Solution: Assess Internal Needs and Align Search Objectives
Set up the recruitment process for success by conducting a full needs assessment to determine your organization’s HR leadership needs. The Lucas Group report provided the following questions to help guide the assessment:
1. What is the current state of our HR department?
Consider the current strengths and weaknesses of your HR department. What tasks are HR responsible for managing? Is the focus on rule enforcement and compliance or is HR empowered to consider human capital optimization? Are there tasks such as leadership development or associate training that are not currently under HR’s supervision but should be? Does the department have access to the necessary technology to measure and assess the effectiveness of different initiatives? Consider the broader role of the department within the company. Is executive leadership aligned to support HR taking on a more active role in company performance? Finally, begin to define the new roles and responsibilities for HR. Are all stakeholders aligned with this description?
2. What is our company’s current place in the market?
As you consider how HR’s role in the company should evolve, keep in mind that this evolution is about more than just addressing internal challenges, such as low employee productivity or engagement. Your HR department must also reflect the broader realities within your company’s industry. To truly understand company goals, your new hire will need context, and this starts with an industry audit. For example, is the market undergoing a major shift from product-oriented businesses to service-oriented businesses? How are customers’ needs evolving? What are competitors doing differently? What are the biggest opportunities for differentiation and what talent needs to be added to the company’s roster to capitalize on these opportunities?
3. Who are our current HR leaders?
In some cases, you may find that your future HR leaders are already part of the HR team– they’ve just been focused on tactical tasks, like compliance and operations, so their strategic leadership skills have not had an opportunity to shine. Tactical thinking and strategic leadership are not mutually exclusive skills. Formal mentorships and leadership training programs can help your tactical thinkers take the next step in their leadership journey. For example, mentors from other company divisions can help mentees better understand how their actions impact business goals. As tactical thinkers become more educated about market risks and opportunities, encourage these employees to ask “why,” “when” and “what’s next.” Doing so will help tactical thinkers adopt a critical thinking mindset, moving from taking orders and executing operation tasks to offering strategic perspective and insight.
4. What are our biggest talent challenges?
The role of HR with a human capital mindset will be slightly different at every company since it must be tailored to that company’s needs. You may already have a good idea about the challenges facing your company, like low productivity or high turnover. It’s still a good idea, however, to ensure that company leadership agrees that these are the biggest issues they need to address and they’re willing to empower the new HR team to do so.
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5. What is our vision for the future of HR?
Now that you understand where your HR team currently stands and what your company needs, define how the vision for HR will evolve to meet these needs. If the big-picture vision is to be an independent value generator for your company, for example, how will HR apply a human capital mindset each day to achieve these goals? What milestones need to be reached on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis to achieve this bigger goal? You don’t need to be overly detailed, but stakeholders should consider HR’s new objectives, how HR will be held responsible for achieving these objectives and how HR will interact with company leadership.
6. What skills or experience will the new hire need?
Consider the skills and expertise that are vital to addressing internal weaknesses and market opportunities but are missing from your HR talent roster. Confusion or internal disagreement over the new HR leader’s role can make it difficult to write an effective job description. Get everyone on the same page by asking these essential questions: What is the main problem this hire will solve? What skills will the hire need to solve this problem?
“Generally, I find this is a combination of technical skills, such as familiarity with people analytics and leadership skills, as well as a proven record of successful change implementation,” said Ms. Taylor. “For example, one’s current HR department may benefit from a strong leader with a process-driven approach who has a history of inspiring confidence and unifying the team during transitional periods. Codify these technical and soft skills along with desired leadership experience.”
“Finally, consider which skills or experience are required and which are desired but not essential,” she said. “Refer back to this list throughout the hiring process.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media