I recently had the chance to sit down and talk to HR professional Glenn Jones, a HR transformation and Shared Services specialist from GGJ Global Consulting, about his thoughts on the future of HR, why he believes that HR directors need to take charge in navigating this transitional period for the industry, as well as his new book.
“Some people say that the biggest threat to the HR industry is AI technology and the robots that will make up a majority of our future workforce. But, what if I told you that the robots are already here?”
After 30 years of experience as a HR professional, Glenn discusses his despair regarding the industry’s deepening crisis, and how he has become increasingly concerned that HR is hastening its own departure through a lack of action, innovation, missing behaviours and competencies, mindset and/or bravery.
“Companies are increasingly treating their people like expendable pawns instead of recognising them as crucial components that embody up their company’s culture, existence, longevity and prosperity.” Glenn believes that there needs to be a refocus on people and workplace relationships should be at the centre of business, however, HR is becoming an irrelevant part of a business, and our industry is largely to blame.
Knowing that he wasn’t alone in his thinking, Glenn decided to take action and spent a year looking in-depth at leading industry thinking on this subject in order to create a holistic representation of HR today which he has since turned into a book. “As the issues that we are currently facing are so compelling, I was surprised that no-one had done this before me and called for action…
“So much of what I found alarmed and disappointed me, not least the number of FTSE 100 CEOs who have a background in HR, which is zero. Instead, the best asset you can have if you want to become a CEO is a background in finance!”
This is not great news for the HR industry and its employees, which, as Glenn explains, is not to say that people with a financial background are unqualified to run a company, but rather that he believes that the people who are often best qualified to get the most out of a workforce are seen as the last suitable candidates to be asked to do so.
Glenn points out, that history is littered with plenty of examples of business decisions which were taken by finance professionals and subsequently backfired dramatically, losing their company millions. And all because nobody had the foresight to see how these scenarios would play out when human beings got involved or consider what the effects of these decisions might be.
Despite this patchy track record, the business world still rates finance people above HR people, so the question is why – and what is the HR industry doing about it?
One possible answer behind the first question, is that companies have lost what Glenn refers to as their “HRness” – the vital understanding that a business’s employees are more important to the business than the infrastructure and the finances, and that any decision should be made with them in mind.
The HR workers in these departments have become the robots that Glenn refers to. They are the HR workers that are so busy looking after the paperwork that their people skills, understanding and influence to bring about change are going unused. All while the job of change management is given to those with backgrounds in finance, sales and IT – people who are often seen as the blueprint for what makes a good CEO, while HR employees aren’t.
The longer the concept of ‘HRness’ is overlooked in the boardroom, as Glenn points out, the more it will be regarded as an irrelevance, making it even less likely that someone with an HR background will ever be selected as a CEO.
By way of an example, Glenn compared the website belonging to a body which represents financial professionals, to a website within the HR industry, and found that in the financial sector there was an abundance of strong programme training courses, based on a clear understanding of what its members need in order to meet the demands of doing business at the highest level in the 21st Century. The HR industry, in contrast, had nothing to say on this subject and had no advice to give!
As Glenn points out, if the bodies around the world that are responsible for driving the industry forward, have no plan for how its members can keep pace with peers working in other areas of their employer’s business, then it is no surprise that HR professionals are increasingly seen as lacking the wide range of skills necessary to lead a company and feel are powerless to react. “Our HR training and approach is outdated, and we appear to have no vision or plan – what I refer to as a North Star – to guide us.”
So, what does Glenn suggest? He has a number of solutions in his book, one of which involves addressing the HR industries reputation as a discipline which people tend to ‘fall into’, either because they have been sidelined in the later stages of their career or by happy accident when other career moves failed to materialise.
“It won’t be easy to make all the changes that I’ve set out, but I have seen in my own career that it is possible. Yes, many of my calls for a greater role for HR at board level have fallen on deaf ears – as a freelance HR consultant I can lead a horse to water, but I can’t make it drink – but I have also seen HR directors become excellent CEOs, who are using their people skills to shape their companies!”
Sadly, they are in the minority and, as Glenn found in his research, they are a dying breed. Therefore, it’s time to find our voice, raise our game and find a North Star to follow! If we want to bring ‘HRness’ back into the boardroom then we must start with the most important people of all – ourselves.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Glenn for taking the time to discuss all things HR with us.
For all things interim management, change and transformation, you can email me on James@refind.co.uk.
You can view more about James Cumming our change and business transformation specialist here.
Glenn is a freelance HR consultant and has worked with Bank of America, HSBC, Ecolab and Imperial Brands in multi-discipline strategic and operational roles across the world. Prior to this, he was employed Eversheds LLP, Accenture, Koorb (NZ) and EON as well as numerous other companies. He is working his way to his PhD, becoming a future CEO and evolving his HR consultancy business to ensure that he continually adds value to his clients, now and in the future. Glenn is passionate about coaching, emotional intelligence and company evolution. His new book ‘Human Resources Changes The World’ aims to disrupt the field of HR and change the traditional approach to who becomes a CEO.