A new book at SHRM reminds HR of the importance of customers.
If you were at the SHRM conference this past June in San Diego, one ofthe not-to-be-missed events of the conference was incredibly clear: Theconcept of The HR Value Proposition as presented by co-authors WayneBrockbank and Dave Ulrich in their same-named book. On an obviouslevel, the event was hard to miss, since each author had three separatepresentations at the conference. But on a more important level, themessage behind Brockbanks and Ulrichs book is one that all HR leadersshould have taken away from the conference–HR needs to focus more onthe customer.
Hello, my name is HR. How can I help you?
Gone are the years of the internal versus the external customer. The HRprofessional of today needs to get out and meet with allcustomers–that is the message the authors were sending.
The internal versus external customer split inadvertently perpetuatedthe subordinate (or support) role of HR. It created the belief systemthat sure we have two kinds of customers, and HR is important becauseour internal customers are just as important as our external ones(wink, wink). It reminded everyone in the organization that personnelwere not the priority, the old staff-line organization structure wasinfinite, and HR was permanently doomed to second class (or evenlower!) status.
Enter HR in the current knowledge economy. Now the playing field hasshifted, thanks to Peter Drucker and others who insist that theorganization is really an information orchestra with each functioninterdependent and none superior to any other.
Functions dominate or fade into the background as the situationwarrants. The key to an effective organization is in its ability tomaximize its impact by emphasizing those areas that meet the call todeliver each and every time. HR–like accounting, finance, marketing,public relations, and legal–contributes appropriate and relevantexpertise on demand, according to specific situations and instances.
But for HR to maximize its impact, it must meet with its customers on aregular basis. Customers, to keep it simple, are those responsible forproviding the organization with revenue. In the not-for-profit space,customers need to be identified and relationships built with them,regardless of the complications emanating from the issue of revenue (orlack thereof).
What makes this point about HR connecting with all customers all themore relevant is that, in my past few corporate HR roles, I always metwith customers whenever I saw the opportunity. I did it for severalreasons. First, it was fun. Second, it showed my interest in managersactivities. Third, it was an opportunity to build networks forrecruiting purposes. Fourth, it gave me a chance to evaluate key staffmembers by seeing them in action and on location. Fifth, HRs presencein combination with sales or other departments demonstrates to theorganization the importance of those departments activity and is aterrific opportunity to build relationships inside the organization.
More than Just Lip-Service
After Brockbanks session, with its emphasis on the
customer, I was ready to go out and see this new world of HR. And wherebetter to look than on the exhibit hall floor of the SHRM Conferenceitself!
Unfortunately, I am sorry (although not too surprised) to report thatin every one of my visits to the many provider booths at theconference, I did not come across one instance of a vendor who was ableto introduce me to the head of (or anyone else in) HR from theorganization. Whats more, the most common response was Why are youasking?
What this says to me is that, once again, we still have a long way togo, and we need to start now. Meet with a person in your organizationwhom you feel is most likely to support your interest in meeting withone or more customers. Then do it. Trust me, instant credibility and awhole new perspective on HR will immediately result.