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Industry shake-ups call for HR to step up

Industry shake-ups call for HR to step up

A few weeks ago I wrote about how growth is defined in various ways. A key facilitator of growth however should be quite clear — the Human Resources department.

At present, the supermarket industry has several growth and expansion initiatives being played out. However, too often HR is playing catch up or attempting to keep its head above the water when what is really needed is leadership.

Many HR professionals forget the term “Resources” in their title. “Human” resources are no different than financial resources. If strained, pressure mounts, which affects employee performance and company returns. If neglected, then good employees may go elsewhere, leaving you weaker. If limited, then growth opportunities are suppressed.

My view is that HR leadership has never been more needed and yet not practiced. Business goals/initiatives are nothing if not people driven and people executed. All the manna from heaven cannot substitute for this. Still, HR leadership consistently plays the role of supporter of a business decision rather than a re-framer of one. If the HR department is to take the strategic seat that is so desperately seeks, in reality and not in rhetoric, it will have to embolden itself to confront challenging issues with management on the front end, rather than assume the position of “we’ll fix the mess they created.”

Would the Haggen situation have been less problematic if HR had had more of a say? Would the Tesco/Fresh & Easy situation have been improved if HR had been emboldened?


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Some may say we’ll never know the answers for sure, but I say a resounding yes. Either way, these occurrences represent optimal moments for leadership. Here’s the paradox: an HR department desperately seeking internal validation, feeling that it is sanctioned to produce results via in-house resources. (A good place to start certainly.) However, in doing so it may fail to see the disconnect between events and demands that are in real time and the processes of HR that take time.

In situations of high growth or expansion a vertically integrated HR department is something to aspire to but rarely obtainable. There isn’t enough insulation to keep outside influences and diversions from creeping in — the pressures of the daily administrative duties detract from the timelines and benchmarks of the growth initiative.

A chasm is created when HR applies normal practices to the abnormality of high growth. In the chasm lies the opportunity that practitioners so desperately seek. If that void is filled by other executives, HR relegates itself to the support role. If seized upon, untold standing awaits. The risk-averse nature of the department has it at odds with operations, merchandising, marketing, sales and real estate management who operate in risk every day. And yet, never has senior management wanted to share leadership more than today. HR leadership would benefit themselves and their organizations greatly if they started thinking and operating like an engineer of a business decision rather than a supporter of one.

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