Google has a famous HR department, they call themselves People Operations or Pops for short. The reason so much is written about Pops is they are driving meaningful change in the way Google manages their most important resource, people.
One well known example was when the company increased maternity leave to five paid months. The shift in policy had no net impact on the bottom line because it dramatically reduced the recruitment costs of replacing the mothers who were leaving Google. Even more importantly it allowed Google to retain the top talent the company had worked so hard to attract in the first place.
This is an example of "Strategic HR." It's when HR takes a more active role in driving business results rather than managing paperwork and people processes given to them by leadership.
Unfortunately most HR teams are faced with so much paperwork and record keeping that they do not have time to do as much of the impactful work we see at companies like Google. The Harvard Business Review recently released a paper on the future of work that frames this problem very well. They divide work into two types, “proficiency work” and “pivotal work.” Both types of work are important, but the impact of the work is different. Proficiency work must be accomplished to a certain standard, but anything beyond that standard doesn’t contribute much to the company. Pivotal work has a big impact on the company, and extra effort and creative insights in this type of work can bring meaningful change or growth. Getting documents signed is proficiency work, finding a way to retain talented female engineers at Google is pivotal work.
HR is full of pivotal work. “People are our most important resource” has become a cliche, but it is an honestly held belief among most executives. Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer has said that she reviews every hire her company makes, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg still spends 50% of his time finding and attracting great people. So if finding, attracting, retaining and growing great employees is the most important things a company can do, that makes HR one of the most pivotal departments.
To fully embrace its pivotal role HR must first invest in clearing out all the proficiency work, and this is where technology is so important. The right system can dramatically reduce the time it takes to finish all the things that just need to get done. Which means that teams can refocus time and energy on the projects and ideas that have a transformative impact on the organization.
Proficiency work doesn’t go away, but the best teams will prioritize getting it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Think through your day, are you spending enough of it on the transformative work you are best equipped to do? You can not make that difference until you invest in taking back your own time. HR needs to lay full claim to its pivotal role.
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