Category Archives: change management

Employees, Customers and HR

It’s March, and you know what that means—the start of conference season. (Indeed, next week we’ll be hosting our own event, the second annual Human Resource Executive Forum® in New York. Look for coverage here.)

Later today, the Human Capital Institute wraps up its annual summit in Atlanta. Because of a conflict, I missed last year’s event in Arizona, where the conference has typically taken place. But this year, especially with it being a bit closer to home, I was able to attend.

As usual, the agenda featured some familiar names: Environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr., Former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, author Daniel Pink (who always manages to deliver at the events I’ve heard him at) and author Gary Hamel (who keynoted this morning).

Perhaps a bit less familiar, but hardly unknown, is Vineet Nayar, vice chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies and author of Employees First, Customers Second. I missed Nayar when he spoke at SHRM’s annual conference last year about the key role employees played in HCLT’s turnaround, but was able to catch his story this time around. Glad I did.

I tend to be somewhat wary of CEOs who write books before they retire (“You really have time for that?”), but Nayar is someone who is clearly passionate about the subject of human capital. He tells a compelling and convincing tale about business transformation.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Nayar told those attending that his book doesn’t include any references to HCLT’s HR leadership. (It’s about being a CEO, not an HR leader, he said.) But in this particular talk, Nayar did devote a few minutes sharing his views on the kind of role HR leaders should play in an “employee-first” company.

Responding to a question from the audience, Nayar recalled that it was initially somewhat of a challenge getting HR on board. “They needed to understand that they were my ambassadors in getting managers to understand that they were the ones who needed to motivate employees to [transform the company],” he said. But eventually, he said, they came around.

He also noted that it was necessary for HR to understand that the initiatives needed to come from the company’s business leadership, not from HR.

More often than not, when CEOs address HR groups, you typically hear them toss out words like “instrumental” and “critical” to describe HR’s part. But not here. Instead, Nayar’s assessment of HR’s role, while certainly positive, was refreshingly a bit more tempered—and perhaps more typical of what happens in the real world.

Reforms Stalled by Inadequate HR?

As we wrote on HREOnline™  a few months ago, an ambitious federal hiring-reform initiative wouldn’t be an easy task, requiring both training and buy-in from staff.

When Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry announced the initiative, he said that, “for far too long, our HR systems have been a hindrance. We have great workers in government now in spite of the hiring process, not because of it.”

But it seems as if HR is still a problem — and that has been acknowledged by OPM’s chief human capital officers, according to this story in the Washington Post about a Partnership for Public Service survey.

“The ‘competency of HR workers’ is one of seven ‘major obstacles’ to building a first-class federal workforce,” according to the 68 CHCOs, who “expressed strong doubts that the human resources community, the very people who will be on the frontlines seeking to implement the hiring reform plan, are up to the task.”

The problem seems to be a lack of training and adequate technology, according to the article.

In the Federal Eye blog on the Post site, OPM responded that CHCOs are generally positive and supportive of the reform, and that criticisms of the initiative “have been taken seriously and have been responded to promptly, leading to a more cooperative, productive and collegial environment for members.”

Well, as long as they are all getting along …