Performance Advisor – Vision of Christmas Future or Existential Crisis?
The end of a year is frequently a catalyst for reflection on the past and attempts to predict the future. I know I’ve been thinking about the future of HR, and my place in it, and have enjoyed reading (and re-reading) many of this year’s visions of HR’s Christmas Future.
One of the more intriguing visions of HR’s next incarnation that haunted our profession this year was the role of the ‘Performance Advisor’. This specter appeared at the stroke of midnight (okay, perhaps it was the afternoon) on an October day in the form of a report from i4cp entitled: The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor
Performance Advisor Defined
In the subsequent weeks there were a number of excellent blog posts (at i4cp, LDRLB, and TLNT) discussing this possible new role for HR. Not wanting to rehash much of their superb analysis, I will include instead a brief excerpt from the i4cp report that should communicate the gist of its message:
“The HR professional must be able to pair that business and finance savvy with a burning curiosity to uncover and address the obstacles threatening or impeding organizational performance.
HR professionals need to think and act as performance advisors to the business. They need the assurance and courage to probe sensitive issues, and the compassion and insight to constructively advise and support the senior executives, board members and other stakeholders who are charged with crafting and executing competitive business strategies
Acting as a performance advisor to the business is the most critical component of HR’s new value proposition. Leveraging efficiency to help drive effectiveness is a necessary element, freeing HR professionals to focus on business impact. Further, educating the organization about HR’s impact on the business will help to enhance (and in many cases correct) perceptions of the function’s value.”
No biggie, right? As the HR practitioners of Christmas future, we just need to know enough about our organization’s business to diagnose systemic obstacles to organizational performance, the credibility to propose solutions to decision makers, and the project and change management skills to have a hand in implementing those changes…so, anyone else need a lot more rum in their eggnog? Sheesh…
Existential Crisis Continued?
What I can’t help wondering as I sit here in front of a crackling fire (no really, I am actually in front of a crackling fire), is: why is my beloved profession in a state of perpetual existential crisis about who we are and what we do? Is HR the Woody Allen of the business world?
It’s not that I think the constant introspection is entirely negative- I believe it shows that as a profession we deeply care about being of value. But it does feel as though it was not 10 minutes ago that the HR Business Partner was the new HR Generalist…now we will all attempt to become Performance Advisors.
If I’m honest, the notion of becoming a true business enabler (as a Performance Advisor is described) resonates with me. The nuance of this definition of an HR practitioner seems to be a question of the unit of focus – while in the past we have, by necessity, focused on the individual, or perhaps on teams or programs, perhaps the Performance Advisor will widen their field of vision to encompass the organization as a whole. It’s micro versus macro…
The Ghost of Christmas Present
But there is still one problem- and it’s one that discussions about HR’s future typically gloss over. The fact remains that when we talk amongst ourselves about being strategic business partners, we are often talking to a small group. Working in HR can mean a great number of things- you might be a benefits administrator, an Industrial Health and Safety manager, a trainer, a labour relations practitioner, an HR Coordinator, a pension program administrator or a corporate recruiter. All of these individuals would be quite entitled to say that they work in Human Resources. And the contested boundary between OD and HR further complicates the discussion (and is particularly salient considering the way that the role of Performance Advisor is described). It’s understandably difficult for us to settle on and chart a course forward for Human Resources ‘ future when we don’t have a clearly defined profession in our Christmas present.
So, it may be that some of us will eventually call ourselves ‘Performance Advisors’, but the bigger questions surrounding what our whole profession will look like in the years to come remain…unless another ghost is on the way to pay us a visit this holiday season…sleep tight, and merry Christmas.
Years ago, a wise SVP of HR in a long-ago-acquired bank did something we onlookers thought was odd. She moved HR specialists around every year – from comp to benefits, to employee relations, but interestingly, not what was then called OD&T. It worked exceptionally well for the HR Management side of HR – we skeptics watched these HR specialists grow with a breadth not seen elsewhere.
Your point about a contested boundary between HR and OD reenforces the separateness of the HRM and HRD worlds. But for the life of me, I don’t get it. The HRD skills and competencies are exactly those that will propel HR into true performance advisors (I like consultants better), but there seems to be even bigger siloes between these two groups.
I remember having a dialogue with one of my OD consultants a couple years ago, who said that OD shouldn’t be part of HR. I disagreed, but know where he was coming from. Competencies like coaching, performance, talent, learning are true value add to the business world, but HR dabbles in these without sufficient knowledge and experience, and the business doesn’t see the value.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if HRM and HRD could learn to live together and respect each other….All I want for Christmas….
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!