I went to the Penna Grand Prix last week. Apart from being a fun and informative day with amazingly experienced and passionate HR individuals and experts, plus a go in an F1 simulator car, it was most thought provoking.

It means that now, in my mind, concepts are coming together, converging in layers which overlap in parts, pulling issues together, into focus. What I thought was separate (social media, HR's place in the organisation, sustainable business) is connected.

It starts with Jessica Miller-Merell, also known as blogging4jobs on Twitter, is a HR practitioner, social media expert and author based in the USA. I met her at truLondon last year. She is the president of XceptionalHR and has some great insights to make. Recently she blogged about how HR needs turning on its head to become ‘HR 2.0’’:

“With HR 2.0 a change is coming where employees and consumers make the rules as a sort of new check and balance system culture. A culture where complaints, conversations, and customer service can no longer be swept under the rug with a closed door conversation in an executive office and a shredder. In this new world, companies choose to embrace and understand the change planning, anticipating, and welcoming customer and employee feedback. Doing more than listening and creating an environment based on value and understanding.”

This came to my mind as I listened to the speakers at Penna’s event. I went to the ‘On the track or in the pits – where are HR careers heading?’ and ‘Creating sustainable competitive advantage through your people’ sessions.

The latter session was a panel discussion along with some discussion on the delegate tables. I felt what John Knell had to say particularly chimed with the way I’ve been thinking recently which is about what I’ve termed ‘proactive HR’. Proactive HR is where HR takes some responsibility, and leads an agenda to help achieve a more sustainable, transparent, effective workforce and a better workplace.

During the presentation John explained how during the recession, a lot of HR people knuckled under and ‘did as they were told’. Is this necessarily a good thing? Perhaps the future of HR is less about the contracts, the appraisal systems, the holiday forms, and more about ensuring the people of the organisation are the best, working to their greatest potential, making great teams, sustainable succession planning and considering, as objectively as possible, how the business is working in its field – is it taking risks and behaving unsustainably, or is it making long term sustainable goals and growing steadily?

It’s very well to say, it’s been said before, or that ‘HR should be promoting more sustainable business’ is a knee-jerk reaction to the banking crisis. But where was HR in the financial crisis? Who had the power and the audacity to stand up to the board in their organisation and tell them what they were doing, how they were ‘motivating’ their people, was wrong and would lead to this?

HR should, in my opinion, take some responsibility, but I know it’s not any individual’s fault in particular. I think this paragraph in Bill Taylor’s post ‘Why we (shouldn’t) hate HR’ sums it up:

“…too many organizations aren't as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren't serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?”

Indeed. And how can we expect those organisations to thrive through the talent war, retain the best people and recruit those who will lead in the future? Human resources are the ones which will do this. The ones who will build the future. So why does HR ever have a problem justifying itself?

(By the way, the blog post goes on to illustrate some great and inspiring stories which you should definitely read.)

At the event, John Knell outlined his belief that HR should be more entrepreneurial in its approach to where it sits in the organisation and ‘take a stand’. However he also said HR should stop dreaming.

I can’t help but think that for some HR practitioners being able to lead an agenda, as I described above, is a bit of a dream. There’s a gap: the haves and have nots, the HRDs with influence and those without, and we have to ask why, and what we can do about it.

Another way of looking at it would be to say, everyone has some influence. Everyone can do the right thing. Just do what is right.

So I say this to HR: Stop being a victim. Work with recruitment. Don’t isolate yourself from L&D. Don’t just appear during the bad times, lead during the good. Be transparent, open and present. That’s not dreaming – it’s not easy, but few things which are sustainable, or help create sustainable practices, from the environment to the economy are ever easy.

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