Bartley Joseph is Managing Director of Highveld PFS, a leading contract manager company in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is also a proud BSN graduate – he obtained his Action Learning MBA in 2008. Recently, he posted a thought-provoking article on LinkedIn, which we’d like to share on our site too. It’s definitely food for thought for anyone working in or dealing with Human Resources.

BSN Alumnus Bartley Joseph MBASome years ago I recall sitting in on a board meeting while on business transformation assignment at a financial services company. The Chief Executive Officer was having a field day having a full go at the Human Resources Profession with no heed to the embarrassment he was causing the Chairman and the consultants from a high-powered Top-5 Consulting House who were there to convince the meeting to adopt their home-grown job evaluation system. In retrospect there was very little hope of either side finding each other, or of the job evaluation system providing any traction in that organisation. The CEO simply had no respect for people in general, let alone for the HR types! Any guesses what advice I had for the CEO when he turned to me later in the meeting for my guidance?

A recent report I read got me thinking again about what I had observed at this meeting. HR Outlook’s report of Winter 2015-16 details their finding of a survey undertaken amongst 152 business leaders and 143 HR leaders. Particpants were asked to indentify their current focus areas. It was very interesting to note that there is much alignment and agreement on the top focus areas: Cost management; productivity; innovation; and talent management. The only major differences are that while line management’s second highest focus area is customer focus, human resources practitioners believed that increased agility and flexibity of the organisation should be a focus area. Not surprisingly, both agreed that the top priority is cost management (sign of the times).

When asked to detail the priority areas for the future, the outcomes looked very similar, with cost management remaining at the top of the list. There was also a strengthening in the alignment of business and HR leaders in that both agreed that one of the top priorities for the future is their ability to improve the agility and flexibility of their organisations in the face of intensified competition and rapid change driven largely by the technology era. They also agreed that one of the top five things that kept them awake at night was the challenge of delivering on priorities within a limited budget. While both sets agreed that another worry was the lack of competent leadership, the HR leaders were much more concerned about lack of leadership talent and the lack of skills and talent as a whole than were the leaders of business.

So what’s the fuss all about, I hear you asking! The answer lies in the shocking statistic that while 72% of HR leaders believed that their HR strategies will do the job, only 26% of business leaders had adequate faith in their people strategies! It is not only the difference in opinion that is of concern, it is also the fact that more than one in four HR leaders have no faith in their own strategies!

But wait, it gets better! While the two groups agree that in future they should rather be focusing on performance management, reward management, and workforce planning, line management would prefer if HR spent more time on employee engagement and staff retention, instead of focusing on improving HR delivery and organisation design!

Now herein lie the clues as to whether HR has lost the plot: Employee engagement is the domain of business leadership, not HR! Any organisation that leaves the engagement of its people to HR is clearly dating disaster. In most organisations, the single most important factor of production is people. Best we leave the management and leadership of people to business leaders. Secondly, people retention is a direct result of how well line management treats people in context of the workplace. Again, a function of line management, not the HR practitioner. Clearly, business leaders do not understand their role as people leaders and neither do they know the role of HR.

So back to that board meeting and the CEO’s request for advice. I simply responded by saying that I did not believe that a job evaluation tool would solve the inherent inability of the organisation to attract, motivate and retain the required levels of talent. At the root of the problem lies that inability of line management to understand and appreciate that only they can carry the responsibility of creating the conditions that are conducsive to people showing up, diving in, and hanging on day after day! HR leaders need to get their line partners to understand this imperative and to forge a treaty in which they support line in creating, at a systemic level, the conditions that allow people to be the very best they can be.

Finally, I leave my HR colleagues with this thought: How it is possible that a large reputable organisation may allow an accountant to advise a company on job evaluation systems? Surely this needs to be the domain of well-trained and fully qualified HR practitioners? Certainly, other professional sectors such as health, accounting, engineering will not allow anyone to advise in their domains without proper accreditation?

Want to get in touch with Bartley Joseph? Contact him via LinkedIn.

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