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Harvard Business Review HR

Harvard Business Review HR

Harvard Business Review July / Aug 2015. A must read issue for HR professionals

Harvard Business Review HR issue

I just read the July / August 2015 Harvard Business Review HR issues and if you are in HR, I would highly recommend you read the entire issue, front to back.

10 years ago, Fast Company magazine wrote an article titled Why we hate HRand within the HR and executive level communities, it caused quite a buzz. This was a must-read for HR at the time, and I think that it still holds a lot of valuable insight. If you are in HR and haven’t read this, do so. 

I am confident that this Harvard Business Review HR issue will make have the same impact on the HR community as the Fast Company issue. If you are working in HR this is the must-read for 2015. Remember, the subscription base for this publication: C-levels and Sr. leaders in business. If they are reading this issue then so should all HR practitioners.

A couple of points that stuck out

“Too many HR managers wait to be told which issues to tackle. If a company starts a wellness program after the Chief Executive has a heart attack or launches a woman’s initiative after his daughter takes a job in the business, you can be sure that HR team is not leading the charge.”

I wanted to point out that it might be the HR departments fault, but there can be some nature vs. nurture aspects of HR’s attitude as well.

I know plenty of Directors of HR who are leading teams, making the best place to work lists and adding strategic value to their C suite that started in entry-level roles. Throughout their careers, they figured out how to be proactive and update their personal brand/image. They made the leap from roles that are typically reactive to roles that are driving forces. 

Many HR departments are short-staffed. When a team is under-staffed in any discipline, you end up putting out the biggest fires instead of checking to see if the firefighting equipment is in working order. All anyone has time for is putting out fires. This is not the environment for a department that wants to drive initiatives in ANY discipline.

If the HR department is reactive vs. proactive, it won’t receive respect. If an HR department doesn’t have respect or executive support, it is hard to gain an investment in HR. HR needs to learn how to effectively pitch ideas to the c level suite. We have to realize that our ideas are probably not going to fly on the first pass and this is OK. We need to ask for feedback, retool the idea and pitch it again. At this level, very few ideas from any department fly on the first pass. We need to be OK with this. This doesn’t mean that the C suite is saying no to us personally, it means the idea didn’t have the right pitch or the company isn’t ready for the idea “yet”. HR needs to realize that if an idea is rejected, it isn’t personal, it is a business. Very few of us rode a bike without training wheels on the first try. We fell down and tried again, and again, and again. We need to be willing to do the same with our pitches.

Harvard Business Review HR point number 2

HR is usually looked upon to be strategic in an employee-driven job market (there are many jobs and not many candidates). In markets where there are few jobs, (think Depression/Recession years) managers are motivating with a stick vs. the carrot. HR isn’t usually requested when management is holding the big stick.

It is the above philosophy that reinforces a recent personal experience. I live and work in the Seattle area and with companies like MSFT, Tableau, AMZN all being founded here and growing, the candidate pool is very limited.

As readers know, about 6 months ago, I took a month-long fishing trip with plans on entering the job market unemployed. The company I worked for in 2014 was being sold to a larger company and with myself working on the operations side of the business, I knew my position was going to be eliminated. I knew this from the day I joined the company and looked forward to it. The goal of the company was to sell to an outfit large enough that my job would literally be eliminated. 

Fortunately for me, the job market or technology in Seattle was (and remains) an employee-driven market. Even though the market is driven by technology and I work in HR, the HR experience with fast growth technology companies gave me a few more options.

A number of CEO’s, founders and Sr. leaders were reinforcing to me that this was an economy that appreciated HR. They were showing a new-found appreciation for HR. In an employee-driven market, where recruiting and retention of employees is a very difficult thing, HR practitioners that are considered strategic will be in demand. Many of us have always known this, but this was coming from folks that were newly discovering the potential that HR could have on a company. These leaders realized that corporate culture is more than ping-pong tables and beer in the workplace.

Leaders that would not have considered hiring an experienced HR professional were suddenly trying to figure out a way to make the numbers work. CEO’s that would normally hire a single HR person was trying to figure out if they could hire 2 or 3 HR employees. There was and is an investment in HR.

These folks understood the cost of recruiting and the cost of an employee quitting. They understand the nuance of retaining top talent. Luckily, I was able to land a great job with a great team while on that fishing trip.  

Business Logic

Typically, recruiting agencies charge the hiring company 25% of the first year salary for a candidate that is hired. When the average price of an experienced developer tops 6 figures, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that hiring 4 new headcount without an outside agency can save a lot of money. Retain each of these folks for an additional year or two when the average tenure in Seattle is 18 months, and the numbers work out quickly.

Incorporate normal employee turnover, add a few new projects which require additional hiring resources and just the cost of bringing on these hires can add up quickly. Retaining great talent doesn’t happen by accident. 

HR needs to strike while the market appreciates us. We need to be strategic and prove we can make a difference when the market is giving us the opportunity.  

Yes, the magazine is expensive. Seventeen US dollars expensive to be exact. For this money, I can download the Iliad on Advice to the HR folks out there, get your hands on this months Harvard Business Review HR issue and read it cover to cover. 

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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PS. This week I am on a business trip with the company’s CEO and the VP of engineering. We were eating breakfast at the hotel this morning and guess what magazine article the CEO was asking me about. Yes, he is a subscriber and I was glad I could talk about articles on a few of the recent issues.  Best $17.00 I have ever spent.  🙂