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&quotHR with attitude” – Now is the hour

The guiding mantra in this age of harsh competition is “add value or get out” argues FTdynamo in the first of a series of columns written for HR Zone from this new management education portal.

The plush conference centre was full as management guru CK Prahalad stepped on the stage. The audience of British human resources professionals sat attentively through a long and impressive presentation. They heard why they must bring the customer inside the business as “a co-creator of value”. They heard why they should build a “Velcro organisation”, which is flexible and adaptable. And finally they heard this crucial insight about these days of dizzying change: “If someone tells you they know the answer, they don’t know the problem,” CK concluded with a smile.

And with that, back to work. But for the international army of HR managers conferences like these really do raise more questions than answers. We’ve had so many words, so many programmes and “big ideas” that the workers are in revolt. Scepticism has tipped into cynicism. The frighteningly difficult challenge for HR is to come up with effective answers, practical ideas that will help people at work and confirm the need for a strategic role for HR.

The guiding mantra in this age of harsh competition is “add value or get out”. The sign should hang over the HR director’s desk. It is for HR to turn that other groaningly awful phrase – about people being the biggest asset – into reality.

How will this happen? Courage is needed. Any CEO who doesn’t understand the need for continuous learning, upskilling, and the development of an organisation’s staff needs to understand, and quickly. HR has to explain why these things are necessary. Any workforce survey that reveals dissatisfaction, insecurity and anger about individuals’ and the organisation’s prospects should provoke immediate and sustained action, originating in the HR department.

The argument for the development of people, and for the marshalling of people as “human resources”, has been won – in theory. Practice still lags behind. And too often HR hovers nervously, like a shy swimmer in the changing rooms, at the edge of corporate life instead of being at its heart. The quips about “Human Remains”, about “chalk and talk” classrooms, flipcharts, feedback forms and endless tedious training courses, have hit home, sapping the confidence of HR professionals.

It is time for a far more assertive approach: “HR with attitude” as it has been called. A confident HR director would sit at the CEO’s right hand, constantly auditing a company’s fitness for the future, helping to bring about cultural change, heralding a bold new regime of innovation and experiment.

CEOs (and their divisional and line managers) can’t do everything. They can’t deliver results, optimise processes, assess competition, explore markets, and be fully-fledged HR managers at the same time. HR can fill in the gaps, taking responsibility for those intangible yet vital aspects of corporate life. This is the challenge, and it is an enormous (and exciting) one. Will HR stand up and be counted?

FTdynamo features writing and research from leading business schools and management consultancies with expert insight and analysis from FTdynamo. A free trial of its services is available at

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