From Readers - Evaluating HR's Strategic Contribution

Feb 1, 2004

HR Magazine, February 2004 Also: choosing women for global assignments; rethinking offshoring; more.

Readers must not allow themselves to be misled by two articles (“The Metrics Maze” and “Measuring HR? Benchmarking Is Not the Answer”) in the December issue that dangle the alluring prospect of new ways to calculate HR’s strategic contribution without those messy and painful cost metrics.

Understandably, these articles will appeal to HR executives exhausted by internal benchmarking initiatives. Yet, without the fundamental data provided by such baseline metrics, no “calculation” of HR’s strategic value can be taken seriously, as the objective identification and prioritization of improvement opportunities require such quantitative inputs.

Are there other ways to evaluate HR? Of course. But the bottom line is that there is no free lunch. The value of HR cannot be assessed in the absence of information that will help CEOs and stakeholders understand what they are getting for their money. The key is to measure both efficiency (cost and productivity) as well as effectiveness (quality and value), and evaluate this balanced mix of metrics in the context of the drivers of demand for HR services at one’s company, such as business complexity or market volatility.

Richard T. Roth

As we consider HR performing a strategic role in organizations, let’s consider this: The need for it.

There is no doubt that managers need our help. The key strategic role of HR professionals at all levels, in my view, is helping managers to fulfill their potential as leaders and developers of people toward achieving the vision and mission of their organizations. This key result is a direct line of influence for HR in organizations. If we truly help managers to succeed and see ourselves as agents for that assistance, we will be effective and valued as a “profit center” in our organizations.

The fact is that most line managers are so busy and focused on doing and achieving in the present that the human investment activities they need to conduct to improve performance get overlooked. These managers (especially new ones) are in over their heads in a lot of cases. Sometimes they’re in a “doom loop” in recruiting. They can’t seem to make good hiring decisions or, when they do, new hires get off on the wrong foot.

It’s not because they don’t care. On the contrary, my experience is that when you get managers one-on-one or in small groups and get them talking, they more than realize the importance of investing time in their people’s growth within the context of the job. Trouble is, they just don’t feel they have time because of the demands of the moment. HR can and should “come alongside” to assist and “complement” managers to help them grasp the changes they must make to turn the “doom loop” into a flywheel. This is where HR can play a strong strategic role as mentor, counselor, confidante, instructor, guide, catalyst and friend.

To be effective in this strategic role requires specific skills that I see lacking in many HR professionals. Some of these can be learned, but some are “intrinsic.” It requires true empathy, a real understanding for the situation managers find themselves in, and management competence and credibility—the skill and knowledge of “having been there,” which many HR professionals have never had. In the absence of the latter, HR people need to truly become immersed in the real life of organizational results and seek opportunities to gain “hands-on” experience that can transfer in their relationships with managers.

Real growth in organizational effectiveness comes from real change, and real change is hard work if it is to be lasting. HR can provide the type of help managers need to make real change and real growth if they themselves are willing to provide the help that managers truly need.

Jeffrey Pelletier
Bloomington, Minn.

Fairness And The Fair Sex

Huh? I have been in the field of human resources for 20 years, and I was under the impression that when considering candidates for employment or assignments, it was illegal to consider, age, race, nationality, gender, disabilities (to the extent that the individual is able to perform the requirements of a position with reasonable accommodations) or sexual orientation. So you can imagine my surprise to see an article (“Are Women Better for International Assignments?” Executive Briefing, December) that postulates that one gender may be better for certain assignments.

Why is this OK to suggest? Aren’t the very legal requirements prohibiting employment actions based on such generalizations in place to force us to see beyond stereotypes to an individual’s qualifications and abilities?

Stereotypes have no place in the workplace because ultimately they are not the truth about a candidate’s qualifications. Even stereotypes that seem positive in nature can be easily twisted to imply a negative (i.e. women are more emotionally intelligent/sensitive [positive]; women are too emotional [negative]).

The answer to the question, “Who is better for international assignments, a man or a woman?” should depend on the candidates and their qualifications. It is both our legal and moral responsibility to approach each individual unbiased by stereotypes. After all, a positive stereotype about one group is negative discrimination for every other group.

Gene Bernardin
Shelton, Conn

Employee Ideas: Handle with Care

I would like to raise a number of issues with the article “Involve Your Employees in Cost-Cutting,” (November).

The whole question of employee involvement (of which their ideas are one aspect) is one that many organizations are not good at handling, yet it is one in which HR management could form a pivotal role. Whenever I am asked to implement an employee recognition program or an ideas program, I always endeavor to speak one-on-one with the senior team to ensure they see this as a strategic initiative and understand the long-term commitment.

I feel the article is very superficial as it fails to grasp the implications. It is not only about cost-cutting or the software, and, yes, it could backfire (and often does) if it is launched in a half-hearted manner. So many ideas programs fail within two years of launching because they are not seen as strategic, they do not get senior management buy-in, they are centralized and completely circumvent the local supervisor/manager/team leader, and they are based on often-large cash awards.

A proper ideas program should become part of the culture, as an employee recognition program should be. It is a sad fact that so many of these programs are put in place and fail because they are not part of a strategic initiative. It is far too easy to think that a properly designed program is simple to implement. (You only have to put a box up—right? Wrong.) Sadly when organizations find that this fails or continues on life-support, they eventually close it down and perhaps profess “they don’t work” for several years.

Handling employees’ ideas properly can have enormous paybacks. It can bring an engaged workforce that loves to come to work because they are listened to. It can bring financial benefits and many other benefits such as improving safety, customer service and employee retention.

It makes no sense to ignore employees’ ideas, but it also makes a lot of sense to run these programs properly.

Andrew M. Wood
Gig Harbor, Wash.

Offshoring Trend May Go Too Far

Recently, I spent a little time reading the numerous professional magazines that I receive every month. After reading one human resource magazine focusing on outsourcing, I became a little irritated with all the information directed at companies pertaining to offshore outsourcing. In fact, I was so irritated that I wrote a letter to the magazine.

Well, after writing and submitting that letter, I read the September issue of HR Magazine and happened across the article, “Overseas Outsourcing: How Big a Threat?” in the Executive Briefing column. I was amazed at the common issues addressed by that article and my letter.

I think American companies need to rethink their outsourcing options and consider staying with outsourcing firms that have an American workforce. If we keep going on our current path, pretty soon all our American jobs will be offshore. This may be an issue that should be a future featured article.

Art Pickering
Marquette, Mich.

HR Magazine welcomes letters from readers. Submitted letters are subject to editing and are the property of the magazine. To submit a letter, please visit our web site at


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