“The way I describe HR these days is we are architecting the DNA of the organization, for not only the current generation but the future generations for the organization,” said Sreeni Kutam. “So choose wisely.”
The Workhuman® Live breakout session “Measuring the Value of HR in Today's Workplace” featured a pair of CHROs – Workhuman’s Steve Pemberton and ADP’s Sreeni Kutam. Together they tried to cover as much ground in the workplace landscape as they could in 55 minutes – from societal issues and leadership styles to defining the value of HR and remembering that the number one thing you should always be looking out for is people.
While wide-ranging, the conversation broke down into a handful of themes that can help HR teams at any organization make sure employees and leaders have what they need to succeed.
For Sreeni, measuring the value of HR in the workplace starts by defining success. “This symbiotic relationship between the individual and the organization ... the organization is nothing but a group of people. It's not the building that we go to and sit and work. It's the group of other people.”
“That relationship to work, to me, the front-line leader, the leader you report to, that's how an individual perceives that relationship with the employer. So as an HR organization, the key to the success is how good your leaders are, the people leaders.”
For a company like ADP with 7,000 front-line leaders, the challenge is multiplied and requires additional structures to communicate and gauge successes and failures – listening posts, as Sreeni deems them. “That's something I learned during these last two and a half years that I can only go as far as my front-line leader goes.”
When in doubt, leaning on your values
One point that became clear quickly is the complexities faced by many HR teams is real. Societal events and issues and health and safety policies have acutely challenged employees, managers, and leaders over the last few years and show no signs of abating.
“I think doing good always requires a little bit of a struggle. I think that's the nature of the human being, and society reflects that,” Kutam said. “To your question, ‘Why do we have to keep bringing up the people practices thing?’ It may be a bad analogy, but my point is doing good requires fighting. And you cannot just fight once and say you won the battle and move on. No. It's a constant thing.”
The value of HR in a company is intrinsically tied to the values of the company. The actions and policies of the company enacted by HR will always come back to what the company prioritizes. Those values are also what HR teams should rely on as they make important decisions in volatile times, like a pandemic. “We have to back to, what do we believe in? You have to ask yourself, as an organization, what do we believe in, what your values are, and take a chance.”
People as your first business priority
Sreeni also offered up a reminder that when thinking about important issues facing your company that you do so “not just for today, but also for tomorrow, because it has direct operational impacts, what type of people you want to come into the organization. A lot of people think that they are in technology business, or the distribution business, or in manufacturing. Let me tell you, everybody is in the people business.”
“You cannot create sustainable competitive advantages if you don't have great people practices. The equation has to be flipped. It starts with the people practices, culture. Strategy comes next. But you've got to be very clear what type of people you want within the four walls of your company … There is no product that gets created by itself, there is no service that gets delivered by itself. People create products, people deliver service, and HR plays a key role in the people business.”
The type of leader the workplace needs
“The days of hierarchical management style are over,” Sreeni said. Today’s workplace needs leaders that are collaborative, imaginative, innovative, and disciplined. “It’s a multidimensional skill,” he said.
Organizations can help leaders by building support systems and frameworks that they can help employees operate within. “I think it's a philosophical thing for organizations to figure out how much of the freedom you want to give, and how much of a framework you want to give. And how do you combine it together to say, ‘You have the freedom within that framework?’ But for that to work, you know, you've got to define the framework very, very clearly.”
The workplace faces steeper and steeper challenges in today’s ever-evolving world and HR professionals find themselves at the center. “Every company will have to choose the path,” said Sreeni. “And fortunately, or unfortunately, I think HR has to be that lighting guide. Because my true belief is if you can't win at home with your associates, you cannot win with your customers.”
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