Awesome was a word we use to describe things that cause feelings of fear and wonder. However, it has become a word we use to give feedback to the Starbucks person at the drive through window when they hand us our chai latte.  I am not feeling fear or wonder at this experience; it happens way too often for me to feel either.  I now feel the same way about “HR Transformation”.

Google HR Transformation. You will find 1,630,000 results and it takes Google .56 seconds to find them. How can it be that something “awesome” has over 1.6 million results?  It could be because it truly is awesome.  After all, when you google moon landing you get 6.3 million results in .31 seconds.  Landing on the moon truly meets the definition of “awesome.”

However, having experienced several unending HR transformations over the last 20 years, I promise you they have been anything but awesome. Dave Ulrich is often credited with beginning the movement with his work in the mid 1990’s including authoring Human Resource Champions and Tomorrows HR Management.

I too was in line to get copies of these and many of Ulrich’s later publications. Who doesn’t agree with Paul ( “offers excellent perspectives built upon years of experience and hard empirical research, which is a nice change of pace since a lot of the management literature is littered with flavor of the week theories and half-baked ideas without any substantial peer-reviewed research backing it up.”  Finally, an expert who is willing and capable of investing time and energy into our function!

Many other authors and practitioners followed suit and soon HR Transformation was a thriving industry and every HR function worthy of being called an HR function was in HR Transformation. We are two decades later and the same HR functions are still in transformation.  Awesome.

This begs the question many HR leaders should be asking – When will we be transformed? Here are three responses that come to mind.

  • What gets measured gets done. Many transformation plans (not just HR) do not include definitive outcomes and measures. You cannot claim to be done transforming if you do not know where the finish line is.
  • One size does not fit all. HR is no different from any other function and must align to and drive the business strategy. We must follow the same organizational design steps any other function would follow to deliver the results necessary for the business to succeed.
  • Physician heal thyself.  HR will often not invest in itself as a function. We will give our right arms to help our clients but do what we need to be successful?
    • We do that in the evenings and on the weekends which by default means it is not part of how we do our work on a daily basis.
    • We also usually assign the task to our high potentials who more often than not are not organization design or change management experts thus setting them and (our HR Transformation) up to fail.

IF HR is to truly serve the organization, the transformation needs to be something akin to the evolution of Accounting to Finance which went from necessary transaction to value creation. It starts with the business strategy – where is the business trying to go?  From there, create an HR function that enables the creation of measurable value.  Effective leaders will start with a blank slate and jettison the idea that we must end up with a population of HR Business Partners, Centers of Expertise, HR Ops, etc.

Once the structures and measures are in place, HR leaders will invest heavily in building the team. This is both critical in terms of who we select for the team as well as how we work together toward common goals. Let’s invest so that we can be high performing and effective and therefore can provide value to our clients.

I have dedicated 20+ years to making a difference in my HR career. I have another 20+ to go.  I truly believe that there is no other function that has the capacity to create exponential returns to the business as HR.  Now let’s build the sustainable capability to do so as well.

I am very interested to hear your thoughts. Why is it HR can’t seem to cross the HR Transformation finish line?