November 18, 2019

Confessions of a Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader: Why HR Should Conduct Its Own Census in 2020


Guess what happens in 2020. Here’s a hint: It happens every 10 years.

Correct! It’s the US census.

But why is there a census, and what value does it provide? Well, the census collects data about everyone living in the United States. That data is then used to determine things like how many seats each state gets in the US House of Representatives, updated public safety measures, plans for schools and hospitals, and many other federal and local initiatives.

It may be helpful for HR pros to conduct a similar kind of census. By taking stock of where we are today, we can make better plans for 2020 and beyond. Let’s take a look at some aspects of HR that may be growing obsolete:

The Employee Engagement Survey

Employers administer engagement surveys to get an idea of how employees feel about their jobs, their leaders, their departments, and the company as a whole. The problem is engagement surveys often fail to deliver unbiased, accurate results.

As a SHRM article notes, “Employee engagement surveys, and the way they’re administered, tend to have flaws that either prevent leaders from truly understanding morale at their companies, or from doing much to lift morale if it’s low.”

No matter how much an HR department stresses the confidentiality of an engagement survey, many employees do not trust this to be true. Therefore, the responses typically toe the company line. As a result, the data derived from these surveys is often faulty. Does acting on faulty data really deliver any value? Are the results of these surveys really worth the cost of administering them?

HR departments need to rethink how they measure and improve engagement. Doing so starts with listening to your leaders and creating a climate of trust and non-retaliation. When employees feel they might be retaliated against for sharing their genuine feelings, you won’t get much in the way of honest feedback.

Annual Performance Reviews

These ancient artifacts serve no purpose but to check a box. If the CHRO and talent management team are still forcing annual reviews on your company’s employees, they are out of touch with the reality of the current workforce and its needs.

Instead, we need stronger employee-manager relationships that encourage regular performance conversations throughout the year for more effective direct conversations, employee engagement, skills assessments, and coaching.

Companies that tout annual bonuses but never deliver the opportunity to obtain such bonuses further accentuate the obsolescence of annual performance reviews. The scales often used to rate employee performance are at odds with efforts to instill a culture of entrepreneurial orientation, collaboration, and trust. To assign a number of 1-4 to someone’s performance reduces their productivity to a score rather than the value they brought to a department or function.

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Questions of internal equity also arise: If you assign higher scores — and thus more bonus money — to one person, you now have less money to allocate to other performers. This creates a culture of favoritism and reduces morale among those employees who are not part of the inner circle.

And, finally, most leaders are not trained to deliver constructive feedback. Period.

Human Resources

HR is not obsolete yet, but if it does not evolve, it will hit a dead end soon.

Old-school models of HR are being replaced — and rightly so. Ask yourself: What benefit does HR provide your organization? What can be outsourced, and what needs to remain internal for the sake of employee engagement, climate, and culture?

CEOs need to better assess the service-delivery model required and look at HR leadership through a different lens. CEOs see their people as their greatest assets, making the “human” in “human resources” the focus. The means HR needs to take a people-centered approach to the employee population. If approachability and trust are not your HR department’s foundation, what is the point?

Robotic process automation and artificial intelligence are rapidly transforming HR by lightening HR pros’ process and workflow loads. These tools will streamline operations, budgets, and information to assist companies in making better decisions. That makes the people-centered HR approach all the more feasible — but how equipped are your leaders and HR team to take that approach? Does your HR organization need the same roles as it did in the past? How can you realign resources to support new technological advances? HR leaders can no longer hide behind antiquated process and delivery models — nor the doors to their swanky offices.

The HR field could use its own census in 2020. Evolving the function requires a needs analysis, talent and departmental review, technology assessment, and capacity overhaul.

HR should be the heart of an organization, and leadership within the function needs to adopt a more heart-centered approach to people. If optimism and trust are lacking within your organization, look at the HR objectives and how the function is delivering to the workforce — the existing workforce, not the way HR thinks the workforce should be.

Millennials and Gen. Z-ers make up a significant portion of the workforce today, and their expectations are not being met. Deloitte reports “Optimism and trust are becoming scarce” and “Millennials remain skeptical of business’s motives.” HR needs to take this into account and align its objectives with the future, rather than the past. Service delivery within the space needs a completely different look and feel than what many CHROs were taught in graduate school.

Where does it all start? Listen, build trust, lead from the heart, and focus on the people.

Laureen Kautt is a global talent acquisition executive and the founder and principal coach of Volitionary Movement, LLC. “Confessions of a Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader” is her recurring column on Recruiter Today.

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Laureen Kautt, BCC (with additional Career Coach designation), is a global talent acquisition executive experienced in creating and building talent acquisition functions for organizations through creating vision, driving strategy, and delivering solutions. By translating her decades of agency recruitment experience to corporate, Laureen grew the global talent acquisition function for a $1 billion legal technology firm from 4 to 28 over a 6-year period, leading and delivering recruitment practices and strategies in North America, EMEA, and APAC. Laureen is also the founder and principal coach of Volitionary Movement, LLC, where she is engaged for individual, group, and corporate coaching and consulting. She is certified in strategic intervention coaching methods and strategies from the Robbins-Madanes Training in Strategic Intervention Coaching.