At the end of last week I was following the tweets from Eversheds HR Summer School which I spoke at last year and spotted this tweet, relating, I think to a presentation from the CIPD's Peter Cheese: "Finance are from Mars, HR are from Venus."
Despite the fact that the tweeter also suggested this doesn't apply to her - she loves her FD - and Peter Cheese's response with #HRlovesFDs (a hashtag which - you might be surprised - hasn't quite managed to go viral) I do think there was something in the phrase.
In fact it was something I was thinking about anyway as I'd been reading a few other things about CFOs including Management Today's suggestion that CFOs are developing into change agents.
Then there was this - a fairly offensive rant from Ram Charan suggesting we split HR in half because the function is so completely rubbish and that in future we should continue just doing administration. The strategic part of what we do would then be led by high potentials from Finance. That really annoyed me...
Firstly, although we're all used to 'I hate HR' articles, writers normally make a point of acknowledging the lots of good people who work within the function - few such allowances from Charan (only really where they're Finance people already running HR).
I thought this was particularly cutting as we've always given a lot of respect to Charan. Even when he turned up clearly worse for wear to present at Singapore's Human Capital Summit in 2011 we muttered quietly to each other but didn't challenge him about it. (You might not be surprised that attendees in SE Asia responded so politely but I also chose not to tweet or blog on the session.) Well no such respect was shown to us from him. Perhaps if we'd challenged him then he'd have respected us more - so I'm trying to make up for the earlier omission with a robust challenge now.
Secondly, I think Charan's reading of the situation is absolutely and completely wrong. He suggests HR (the strategic bit) needs to be led by the business, which is why he wants Finance to run it. I think that business needs to led by HR. Business is about people and needs to be a lot more people shaped than it is now. HR understands how we can do this.
Charan wants HR to be able to deal with real business challenges, being more like the rest of the business. I see little point in being more like the rest of the business whilst business is in such a mess. Business needs new thinking and new ways of operating which HR people with a different - not the same - perspective to CFOs can bring to it
This may mean that HR can be seen as a little bit different to other functions - and that's a good thing. Let's celebrate our difference, not obscure it. And let's not worry about criticism from people like Charan who clearly represents the past rather than the future. Because if there's one function which is going to be split in half in the future it'll be Finance not HR (or as I recently suggested we could just outsource it.*)
* = I know some great Finance people, though I've worked with some nasty examples of inhumanity from within that function too. But this article isn't written to disrespect them, Charan-style, but simply to argue that their function isn't as important or as strategic as our own (or if it is now, that this is just a hang over from the past, and the situation is already changing.
In fact the above changes are already taking place - many HR Directors are already acting as 'the consiglieri of the C-suite' (this article by Saatchi & Saatchi's Richard Hytner is much more sensible then Charan's diatribe.)
Therefore I do think Peter Cheese has lost the plot a bit when he suggests that HR needs to use data, engage with other departments (Finance) and get fluent in finance speak in order to be taken more seriously. We do, but prioritising this is just a recipe for continued irrelevancy.
So I'm not suggesting we shouldn't engage Finance - of course we should. But let's do so from a position of strength. It's HR which interfaces with the people in the business and despite MT's suggestion, has the best ideas and experience around engagement, performance and change agency. So let's talk to Finance, but change the agenda that Peter has suggested to how we can help them become more talent centred, using emotions and developing fluency in people speak.
We need to change other peoples' attitudes to people, not our own to business. And to do so withought needing to get them all to run HR! (like Infosys' Mohan Pai for example.)
And if we do need to get together on one planet, let's help Finance to come to Venus rather than having us moving off to Mars. This isn't intransigence - it's just that it's Venus, not Mars, which today provides the best environment for the future of our businesses.
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