• Saturday, March 02, 2024
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BusinessDay

For HR, there is still some gap

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There is the general notion that HR is an all comers’ affair. How would you respond to that?

Well, if that was true, people would love HR, won’t they? They would say HR is great; we love our HR. But usually, when you look at an organisation they are not usually happy with the performance of their HR team.

So it’s really not true. If HR was really doing what it says it can do and there wasn’t any other body of knowledge, skills set or competencies required, then everybody would be happy. But they are not. So, clearly there’s some gap, some distance.

Given all of your experience, can you define concept of HR?

Great question! I am only speaking for myself. The role of HR in a generic sense is to add value to organisations but the way we do it is different from other job functions. It is to enhance the capability of people working in the organisation.

When people start on a job or at a given point in time they have a certain level of performance that they can use. We are like coaches in a sporting team. Our job is to look at the people in the organisation and increase their individual performance and direct it towards the goal of the team.

So, in many ways, HR is like the coach or manager of a football team and our objective is whatever the goal of that organisation – it can be profit model, it can be a socialist model, it can be a not-for-profit model – is to move that group of people towards that objective and in the process make them perform at a higher level than perhaps even they thought capable themselves.

There is a common perception that people in HR hardly end up as business leaders. What’s the organisation doing about this?

One of the ways we address it at SHRM is that we say explicitly that we believe HR is a business function. A good example of that as a professional association we do what is called a curriculum alignment for colleges and universities. What that means is that they submit their curriculum to us and we review it as the profession, as practitioners. We say are you teaching the type of courses, the type of knowledge and skills that people who want to work in HR should learn and see it as a business function?

So, in SHRM as a professional association it is sort of a non-debate. If you’re working in HR you’re a business person or you could say that you are a business person first and working in HR second. Whereas a lot of people who develop their own career independent of a professional association see themselves first as HR people then employees of business organisations second and we consider the latter model to be less effective both for the individual in terms of their career and less effective within the organisation.

There are exceptions to the rule, make no mistakes but in general the evidence is consistent. You have to be a business person, preferably, get a business education, then complement that with an understanding of your organisation and the competencies related to HR.

What’s this new model your association is coming up with?

It’s a comprehensive competency model. We call it the elements for HR success. Basically, it’s like a blueprint for an effective generalist HR practitioner. It can be done at four different levels of the career – entry level, mid-level, senior and executive.

It’s like you’re training for a sports competition and you sit down and have a training plan. You say this how much I should be eating, this how much I should be sleeping, here are the sort of exercise I need to do. And, it’s not just exercises based on my competition; it could be stretching. It could be cardio-vascular. It could be strength training.

So in case of development for a HR practitioner, it is the same basic idea. It’s the different elements that can be gathered to make someone more effective. A lot of people assume that because they are good in one element they are good in everything related to HR but that’s not true. To be effective, there’s a body of competencies that are required and in fact, the more effective you are in our nine competencies, the more capable and effective you are to your organisation.

How much preparation did SHRM put into developing this model?

This process started about four years ago and it started with the basic research of asking people in HR what they are doing. What are the tasks they execute on a regular basis? It also involved asking organisations what they expect from HR and coming to define what HR is; what’s in it as an activity? What it is as a job function.

Once we have that, then we asked other questions like what are the activities that separate people who are doing HR from people who are doing HR effectively, which is a very different question. Doing HR is a transactional activity, doing HR effectively is a physical activity.

What has been the level of acceptance among HR practitioners?

To be fair, it is still very new. We only launched publicly at the beginning of this year so it’s just about six months in the public eye. What we are doing now is a sort of brand awareness campaign. It’s making people aware that it is available in the market right now. Let them know what level of competencies that our research came up with and letting them know how it’s different from others in the market.

As an experienced HR practitioner, can you compare the practice in Africa, (narrow it down to Nigeria) and globally?

I have to be very clear about all the markets I’m familiar with; for Nigeria, I’m not strong in details; but when I interact with HR practitioners, I see on the average a higher level of understanding of competency in HR than in majority of emerging markets around the world.

And that is supported by the fact that Nigeria is usually in the top three in SHRM’s portfolio either in terms of number of members, number of members who have our professional certifications or number of members who are participating in our annual conference in New York. One of the largest delegations that come for our conference is from Nigeria, at least, for the last three or four years.

How strategic is Nigeria to SHRM?

I don’t know if ‘strategic’ is the appropriate word to use. As a professional association, we are not for profit. We go where the demand is. We are not trying to export any particular elements of HR but from an internal point of view we look for the markets that are most interested in SHRM, what are the markets that are most interested in our certification partner, HRCI. Let’s support out members in those regions; and Nigeria is always in the top three in those criteria.

What has the feedback been like?

Well, as initially stated, it’s very new, but the feedback and reviews we have received, particularly from SHRM members are fantastic. Many of them love it. A lot of them say to me, “Wow! This makes sense to me. Having worked with other models, I see the strengths of this model and how it addresses the gaps in the other models. So, it’s been a positive response.

Looking globally, do you think organisations are going to embrace this model?

Well, we hope so but it’s going to come from the HR practitioners themselves. Our methodology is not pushing our strengths; it’s a demand driven system and we want our most capable HR practitioners to adopt this model, use it for different grades of self-development and let the results speak for themselves so that they become people in the market place that are recognised by their employers, recognised by their peers as individuals who are in the highest level of their profession and that they become the champions for the methodologies they use.

It’s like the athlete who’s been successful or someone who’s gone through a fitness or weight loss program and people say ‘what did you do to get at where you are?’ We want it to evolve to the level that people are saying ‘I followed the SHRM competency model and it gave me specific areas that I needed improvement; places that I needed to invest in and when I worked on this I realised that I was more effective in my work and my organisation valued me personally as a practitioner and HR as a function even more.’

But why come up with this model at all; is it that the HR system is not working?

You have to remember that we are a HR association, not-for-profit. Our shareholders are our members and this is something our members were essentially looking to us to provide because the other models in the market place are either commercial in nature or were not addressing the need that they had.

So our shareholders come to us and say we expect you as representing us to develop products that would help us; that is our personal performance and defend the reputation of HR as a profession. So the demand was very high from an internal point of view that is the practitioner point of view. We are at the next stage now to demonstrate to individuals who are not aware of it and the market place how it can potentially add value to individuals and the organisations.

You mentioned a self-assessment tool developed alongside the Competency Model. What is the relationship between the two and will the former also be available for free to the public?

I don’t know what SHRM’s strategy is regarding the self-assessment tool, whether it is something that will be made public or if it is something that will be provided as an after-service to people. As a not-for-profit when we do charge, it has to be designed as a break-even proposition.

There are costs associated with what we do so when we charge it tends to be that the charge are based on recovering our cost of delivering it. In terms of the model itself you can think of it as representing the ideal, perfect HR person.

No one is perfect, no one is that ideal but if you create the model as the ideal and you map yourself against that ideal, you can find the gap. And ideally, if you want to grow in your career you can see where those gaps are and invest in them.

What we intend to do is not to just propose what the gaps are but here are what’s in the marketplace that can help you.

It could be university courses, it could be online learning tools, it could be specific programmes, certifications that might help.

We would be more like a repository, a library, a reference point that will point people in the right direction. And in some cases, we would be the provider. We would actually say this is something that we do. A good example is our professional certification. I suspect that a lot of people who will do the competency self-assessment part of the feedback they will get is you are a good candidate to do one of our professional certifications. It will benefit your tactical and technical knowledge and will it will also enhance your credibility in the behaviour aspects of the model.

In 25 years of practice, what is that one experience that stands out for you?

I don’t think that I have one big moment at the top of my head. One thing with this type of experiences is that sometimes I think that I understand and have a good knowledge of what I am doing then something teaches me that I don’t know everything. I love those moments because it sort of refreshes you.

For example recently, I was introducing this model, the SHRM Competency Model and I sent out the most recent version into the attendees of that event only to find out that the model had been updated since I developed my slides.

So, I was talking from my slides and there was some new information in the model that the attendees had. And the nice thing about it was that it reinforced the point that I had made earlier that it was living document that it’s not a snap shot in time that doesn’t change and they were able to make a point to me that reinforces the values of the competency model.

Although I was sort put on the spot of having a presentation that some of the content wasn’t consistent with some of the hand out but the relationship between the two demonstrated a bigger and more important point.