Your HR department might not be as equipped to handle employees as you think, and it’s not their fault. Josh Bersin explains.
Human resources is not the field it once was. Gone are the times when the HR manager could walk around the office, be friends with everyone, and deal with the issues as they came up. Much more is expected now: business leaders are asking their HR employees to be business consultants, providing employee engagement strategies, data and analysis, and developing the business’s next generation of leaders and managers.
But is the HR of today qualified to do this? Do these employees want to turn into analysts and developmental program coordinators? And do they get the choice?
This part of your business—just like many parts of your business, we know—is at a crossroads in its industry. Trends are shifting, and the knowledge your HR professionals currently can bring to the table may not be enough to satisfy Millennials, the up-and-coming Generation Z, or your ever-evolving leadership style.
So when you ask your HR department to develop a new training program for new employees, ask yourself this: are you training your HR team?
“The function of HR has really changed,” said Josh Bersin, Principle and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, an organization that helps companies develop strong research-based people strategies to drive business performance.
“This is a personal crusade of mine: only 12 percent of HR organizations provide professional development for themselves. There’s a lot of training for the rest of the company, but very little help for them to become better at their craft. There is an absolute need for this.”
Josh Bersin started in tech and sales marketing, two fields you wouldn’t immediately connect to human resources. But after joining up with a startup that was in the process of launching a software platform for online learning, the pieces started to fit together.
As an unfortunate casualty of the recession, Bersin lost his job, but took it as an opportunity to begin to think bigger. There was an enormous demand for online training. This, on top of his fascination with online learning, led him to research the possible applications in business.
“Every company, every leader, has people problems at the center of their business. People are what make companies successful, not customers. If you treat your people well, your people will treat your customers well.”
But getting HR right isn’t easy, and Bersin admitted there were a lot of issues to address. Each company has its own set of problems, whether they are culture, compliance, strategy, or leadership. This is one of many struggles: there is no one-size-fixes-all solution.
There is one piece of advice Bersin gives to each company: changes need to be made from the top down. His series of strategies—which includes making sure the job fits the individual and not the other way around, and that business leaders invest in people—has guided many a successful company to more success, and a struggling company to set up a good foundation. It’s key however, that the leadership leads by example.
This is another challenge for HR and employee retention: leadership. Over 85 percent of companies say it’s the number one challenge they face at work.
“If I could narrow down the challenges faced in implementing good HR and talent management strategies, it’s the training, coaching, and selection of managers within an organization that poses the problem,” Bersin said.
“You hire skilled people, and hopefully you’ve done a good job of hiring. If you let them do their job, the employee will generally have pretty good experiences. But it’s when you insert managers you get problems.”
Often this comes from the manager’s overcompensation of leading, which can lead to micromanagement, an employee’s worst nightmare. Or a manager is afraid to flex his or her fist when the time comes, and lets a department run rampant. Either way, you’re in trouble.
Much of this comes from a person’s desire to be promoted because of the monetary benefits, not necessarily because they want to do the responsibilities attached to it. Bersin and a company he worked with found a unique solution to this situation.
A very well-known high-tech company (who will remain nameless) went through a lot of changes quickly and started to notice a disorganization within its ranks. The problem was a leadership gap among young leaders: employees were applying for and getting leadership positions because they wanted to get promoted, not necessarily because they wanted to lead.
The company started a new policy—if you wanted to be a team leader, you would not get a promotion. This led to employees moving into leadership roles because they wanted to lead, not because they wanted more money. This small change saved the company time and a lot of money. Who would have thought?
“The job market is very hot right now, and the unemployment rate for highly skilled people is very low. This means there’s a war for talent.”
And, most interestingly, employees are looking for strong culture and engagement over leadership. Companies are struggling to build an attractive environment to attract employees, and at the same time many businesses—especially the bigger ones—are struggling with income and equality. Most big companies are struggling too with the best way to raise wages for lower-skilled employees. And although salaries on average are going up, they lag behind the economy. Add these to that growing list of problems we started a couple of pages ago.
Not everyone is doing it wrong though, and Bersin was enthusiastic about the potential for HR, talent management, and employee retention for the future. Companies have realized they have to raise wages; there’s been a huge explosion of online learning offerings, and many are free. All HR departments have to do is catch up.
Many companies are realizing the need to upgrade their technology, and Bersin is impressed by the increasing trend of flexibility and innovation.
“Companies are coming to grips with the fact that the way they have done management in the past isn’t going to work anymore,” Bersin said.
Between 30 and 40 percent of the workforce is under 35. People are going to change jobs often. And the HR community is starting to wake up and have to be more creative.
“It’s an exciting time, there’s an energizing shift in mentality,” Bersin said.
Good talent management strategies—which come from an even better HR department—have unending benefits. Employees are more collaborative and willing to help each other when satisfied in their work environment. There’s more innovation and creativity. The leadership pipeline becomes stronger. The company becomes better at recruiting good people. There’s more productivity. Companies that spend more money on their people are more profitable. Need we go on?
“What hurts innovation is fear,” Bersin said. “If an employee doesn’t believe his or her opinion or idea will be heard, often they will stop contributing. Great talent management opens up innovation.”
Josh Bersin founded Bersin by Deloitte in 2001 to provide research and advisory services focused on corporate learning. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and has been quoted on talent management topics in key media, including Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, on BBC Radio, CBS Radio, and National Public Radio. Josh spent 25 years in product development, product management, marketing and sales of e-learning and other enterprise technologies at companies including DigitalThink (now Convergys), Arista Knowledge Systems, Sybase, and IBM.