The age old argument that HR needs to focus on people and let others in the company focus on profits ignores the undeniable fact that the way we treat people directly impacts profitability. After all, who besides people make the business run successfully? The answer is simple: No One. Machines, buildings, material, cash and all the other physical assets of the company are nothing but depreciating assets. Even money, unless invested in physical assets or services, is useless.

So HR, your job is to work with managers and employees to leverage nonhuman assets. Whenever you invest your time and your resources the objective is to make money for your company. How can it be otherwise? If you don’t help obtain a 1 + 1 = 3 return your company will go out of business and the employees will lose their jobs (so will you). Seems to me that one of the finest examples of altruism is helping people get a job, succeed in their job and keep their job.

The CEO and the CHRO
There is reasonable to believe that CEOs want HR to have a positive and hopefully strategic impact on the business. On the other hand surveys continue to show that CEOs and other senior executives often see HR as process or program focused. Therein is the answer to the question of why doesn’t HR get a seat at the proverbial executive table. If someone doesn’t listen to you it is a sure sign that they don’t respect what you have to offer. Too often I have heard executives complain that HR asks to money to improve HR’s staff life or process yet can’t explain the value of that investment on the company’s objectives.

Think of it this way. I’m a senior executive in your company. You and I are meeting. You want me to do something. My question is why should I do it if I can’t see how it will directly or even indirectly help me achieve my goals? My responsibility as a corporate executive is to see that all resources are invested in a manner that will drive us toward achieving the organization’s strategic goals. If I don’t do that I’m not fulfilling my responsibility and should be removed from my position. So when you talk to me keep that in mind. Help me meet my responsibilities and I will be happy to listen to you.

HR’s Hidden Value
In a recent on-line discussion someone made the point that a good HR department is just as important and critical as a good sales department. I’m certain that the sales department would argue with that assertion. That notwithstanding, if the statement is true why doesn’t everyone in the organization agree with it? The sales function every month puts out a report listing total sales, gross margins on sales, customers gained and lost, as well as other financial data. What does HR report? Typical data includes headcount, turnover, HR’s operating cost, numbers of people hired and trained. What does all that show; cost! Where is the value? Early in my HR career, before I learned that HR truly did generated financial value, I showed that type of data to a CEO. His reply was, “I can’t do anything with that.” Does HR show evidence that it contributes financial value or does it list simply the time, money and resources spent?

Smart Change Management
The most constant hallmark of organizational life today is change. The running partner of change is conflict. I don’t need to go into detail on what’s changing other than to point out: everything. Whether you’re talking about global completion or the shortage of qualified staff the marketplace is replete with change and its partner conflict. I’m going to accept that you are a wise person and can see what needs to be changed. However, you might want to address how to handle the conflict that change almost always brings.

Why don’t people like to change? It’s pretty obvious. If you asked me to change the way I’m doing something you are taking away some degree of my experience and capability. That attacks my status and power. You might not think that is very important, but you will when someone comes along and tells you that you have to change the way you do things. Now you have to give up what it may have taken months or years to master and start all over. In the Ordeal of Change, Eric Hofer a laborer and amateur philosopher, explained the angst he experienced when as the picking season changed he had to move from picking strawberries to picking beans. Doesn’t seem like a big deal until you have to do it.

The best way to avoid resistance to change and the conflict it brings is preparation. Long before its time to change we need to discuss the big picture. Issues such as how the outside world is changing, how that is affecting our company’s ability to compete and remain profitable, and what the ramifications of that will be if we don’t address it. Now people can see what it means to them, not just some invisible person higher up the chain of command. The Coast Guard’s motto is correct. “Semper Paratus”, always be prepared for change and it will be easier to handle.

Rodney Dangerfield
HR people complain that, like Rodney Dangerfield, “They don’t get no respect.” People naturally respect someone who helps them achieve their goals whether they are personal or organizational. I don’t claim to have any special powers, but I learned the hard way early in my HR career that management doesn’t want to hear about problems without a solution. Likewise I also learned that when you position yourself as a business problem solver you are sometimes taken into their confidence to personal problem solving.

I used to report to the CFO of a company who after I had been there a year or so would call me in and say, “Counsel me on (this).” He had come to understand that I was a level headed person who focused on what was important. Aren’t you the same? Wouldn’t you be able to listen analyze and contribute good counsel to some who asked for it? I imagine you do it in your personal relationships, why not with managers in your company. Everyone needs help. Sometimes they will acknowledge it and seek counsel. If you earn their respect they will come to you. The other side of that is, if you have earned respect for your wisdom they will usually listen to you when you need something that makes sense for the organization.

Acquisition Angst
For legal and competitive reasons a proposed merger or acquisition cannot be widely discussed prior to final agreements between the concerned parties. This means it will come as a surprise and even a shock to many people. Although it’s becoming less rare, at the time of the announcement management might claim that it doesn’t expect much change. This is more often the case of the acquisition of a small company be a larger one. The statement might be something like, “we expect the (acquired company) will continue to operate as before.” In practice it is almost never the case.

This leaves middle managers in a state of limbo. The acquirer will almost always lay off a couple layers of management to reduce operating cost. That will further disrupt the communication chain. The reduction will mean a new structure with different and often fewer jobs for rank and file employees who are totally powerless. Given all this upset what can you do to facilitate the impending changes?

I’ve been through several of these situations on both sides. It ain’t easy podner, no matter how you cut it. If there is a good rule of thumb it is to establish a joint manager/HR merger team. All decisions have to be worked out at that level in that group. All announcements are team announcements. One clear consistent voice is essential at a time of great anxiety. The key to success, such as it might be, is the attitude of the senior and middle managers of the acquirer toward the managers and employees of the acquired. If you are the acquirer keep in mind that one day you might be the acquired. The Golden Rule lives: The one who has the gold makes the rules.