Friday 24 June 2011

SAP HR Summit



A great event with SAP today.  My own session was on HR and social media, and my contributions in a panel focused on the role of social media too.  In fact the whole conference had a heavy focus on social media which I will explain in my next post (I’m separating these out so as not to contaminate this one with the title of that!).

A couple of the other highlights for me were:


Rob MacLachlan, Editor of the CIPD’s People Management magazine presenting their (well, largely the CIPD’s / Bridge’s) views about where HR’s come from and where it’s going.  I can’t say I particularly agreed with Rob on either of these points, but I liked the the clarity of his positioning.

So firstly, Rob’s review of the past focused on the recession, suggesting that any attempt to pin responsibility for the crash on HR is too simplistic.  HR has to be pragmatic and do what it’s told.

Rob read out a short statement from a City HR Director noting some of the hugely dysfunctional behaviour they’d allowed, on the basis that if they hadn’t, they’d have ben sacked.  (Is that sufficient an excuse?  For me, HR needs to do what’s right, or what’s the point frankly?  That may be simple, but better simple than spineless?)

We had another example of what I think is dysfunctional behaviour from another speaker later on.  Under a slide which started with Warren Bennis’ maxim that you should ‘recruit for integrity, intelligence and energy – and that if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you’!, we later learnt about a company which supposedly couldn’t afford to get rid of some low performers.  So instead of doing this, it actively promoted these people, putting their names on white papers that other people had written and so on – and by the end of the first year, all these people had been head hunted away.  Clever, but definitely not a great example of integrity! (which I’m not sure had occurred to the speaker).


Rob’s view of the future is based on Lynda Gratton’s new book, Shift, including her findings about the  crucial role of connectivity, and also the CIPD’s Next Generation HR stuff, including Bridge’s triangle which I don’t quite agree with either.  But I liked the way Rob used the triangle to support a survey of HR technology that People Management’s been running for SAP.  In summary:

  • 54% of of HR professionals surveyed agreed that core HR and payroll systems (at the bottom level of the triangle) support their needs well
  • Just 18% suggest that more strategic functions, for example talent management, are covered well
  • Only 46% say they have a good understanding of the software available on the market (and the respondents were probably quite systems oriented).


Wow!, that last figure isn’t good.  As I noted in the update to my last post, we really need to develop more knowledgeable HR IT professionals on this side of the pond.  And I think if we did, they’d find that HCM technologies (at least those on the market if not those they’re currently using) actually do support most strategic functions very well.


I found the session from Anthony Hesketh at Lancaster University Management School resonated more with me.

Anthony questioned how talented our talent really is.  For example, he referenced Boris Groysberg’s research findings that the highest performing investment analysts don’t often turn out to be as highly performing when they change firms.

And then there’s Rob Goffee’s book, Clever, which contrasts clever people against the merely talented.  Truly clever people will add value no matter what.  But cleverness is largely social in nature – like the Peter Mandelson factor, using relationships to open doors.

Or you can think about it as arête, Aristotle’s concept of a deep skills, as opposed to telos – just the ability to do the things we need to do.  It’s arête that allows you to do the things most people don’t see – eg understanding a contrapuntal fugue (have I got that right?).

By the way, that’s how HR adds value too – we can see the fugal form of people processes in a different way from our CEOs and other business executives – though they might not see this difference themselves which is why you get CEOs saying they already know about people and just want their HR people to do the hiring and firing stuff.

The key relationships for HR are those with the CEO and CFO – and those between these two, ie the golden triangle.  The shape of that triangle sets the tone for HR’s impact in their business.


Of course, I didn’t agree with everything covered in the session.  Anthony has a very different beliefs about measurement to me (though I do like his ROIT).  For example, I’d suggest that the CEO’s challenge that they want HR to talk in Excel not Powerpoint needs a bit of that same willingness to challenge that I’d have liked to have seen from Rob’s City HRD.  Many of HR’s most important outcomes are intangible and, as Anthony said, intangibles are things that can’t be measured – so sometimes it makes sense not to try and measure them.


And I also disagree with one thing which is more fundamental that both Rob, and I think Anthony said.  And that’s about the role / POV of HR.  Rob noted that the people the CIPD had been speaking to supporting their Next Generation research were HR people who see themselves working in an applied business discipline with an HR focus, not the other way around – as if that’s clearly the only stance that is appropriate for HR to take.

And Anthony mentioned something similar in his comment about HRDs who don’t want to stay in HR but are scanning the rest of the organisation looking to move into a new role.  If that’s a pragmatic response to HR’s lack of credibility then I fully understand.  But I suspect it’s part of this mindset that HR needs to be a business person first.

I don’t think this stance or mindset is the single right one for HR to take.  In fact I think we can do much better with a rather different one – that of course we’re business people but that our defining characteristic is our fugal understanding of people, our arête in strategic HCM, which allows us to significantly improve the (value delivered to our people and therefore the) contribution of the people within our businesses.  You may have seen my post linking this stance and employee engagement earlier on this week.


As always, I’d be interested in your views – particularly if you attended the summit, but if you didn’t too.



  • Consulting - Research - Speaking  - Training -  Writing
  • Strategy  -  Talent  -  Engagement  -  Change and OD
  • Contact  me to  create more  value for  your business
  • jon  [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com



Post a Comment

Please add your comment here (email me your comments if you have trouble and I will put them up for you)