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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Monday 12 May 2014
‘Me too’ or ‘My HR’?

‘Me too’ or ‘My HR’?

“People are our most important asset,” proclaims the chief executive officer so often that this cliché has almost become a parody of itself. But does the HR Director say it and believe it with the same fervour? And if they do, how do their actions make the statement a reality? 

The typical HR response seems to be to do what everyone else does: individual performance incentivisation, competence frameworks, 70-20-10 learning models, high potential schemes, the Ulrich model…the list can go on. 

Different HR functions

Perhaps one of the criticisms of HR today – and one which I believe is valid - is that HR functions, regardless of sector, are more similar, than different, to each other. Yet how can this be the case? I believe that if people are key to competitive advantage, subjecting them to the same policies and practices as other companies do makes no sense. 

A differentiated HR function and people management practice should be the ambition for enlightened corporations because this is how to create business value through a differentiated workforce – the most important asset. 

Just as a well-known furniture brand urged Brits to ‘chuck out your chintz’ in the 90s, I would urge you to look afresh at HR. I’d suggest that you resist the temptation to seek refuge in benchmarks and generic best practices – this leads to ‘me too’ HR. I’d like to see more differentiated, ‘my HR’.

Embrace the fact HR is at its best when it reflects your organisation’s unique characteristics– using your own data and analytics to inform bespoke decision making. 

Data and analytics

Data and analytics are key. Applied properly, HR analytics can show connections, correlations and causality between HR processes and business activities which have a tangible impact on the bottom line.

For example, analytics at one client I’ve worked for recently showed that their individual performance management and bonus arrangements didn’t affect sustainable business performance in their retail branches. This has opened-up a much more interesting and distinct opportunity to re-connect the branch employees with the success of their business. 

The fact is that by clearly linking HR strategy and business profitability, HR analytics can provide the vital link between people management and business performance. It can give you, your CEO and your employees the compass bearing for heading in a different direction from the crowd; making your people demonstrably your most important asset. 

Robert Bolton is a partner at KPMG Global HR Centre of Excellence