HR Leaders, What Keeps You Up At Night?


Back in 2006, I wrote a blog entry called “What Keeps You Up At Night?” about the priorities of HR leaders. Here is the original blog post, followed by some current thoughts.

Original Post

A handy needs assessment tool I learned years ago is to ask a client: “What keeps you up at night?” In other words, What concerns are on your mind?

A CEO I once worked for used this question to start off his executive retreats. The company was growing rapidly and the two areas that “kept him up at night” were People and Systems.

I received an e-mail yesterday about an upcoming HR conference where the focus will be the “Top 5 Things that Keep HR Up at Night.” They are:

1. How do I get a seat at the executive table?
2. How can I take advantage of technology to get more efficient, effective and innovative?
3. What can I do to take a dysfunctional team from unproductive to extraordinary?
4. How can I make employees excited to come to work?
5. How can I bring humanity back into HR and the rest of my organization?

Not a bad agenda.

Current Thoughts

That was in 2006. So what’s “hot” in 2011 for HR leaders? Or more pertinently, what is keeping HR leaders up at night?

Although I am an “external” these days, my client contacts are mostly HR leaders. So, based upon my interactions with them, here is my sense of the five big issues “keeping them up at night:”

1. Social media – In 2006, HR leaders were asking ”How can I take advantage of technology to get more efficient, effective and innovative?” Today, the same question has been honed to the issue of social media. Only today, the questions are around risk and control: Can I really trust my employees to use social media appropriately during work hours? Will the use of social media benefit our organization? How will we know?

2. Employee engagement - In 2006, HR leaders were asking “How can I make employees excited to come to work?” Today, the buzzword is Employee Engagement. And the research on engagement is revealing a great deal about the power of highly committed workers and what it takes to unleash the power of commitment. (Check out the Employee Engagement Network for more info.)

3. Talent acquisition – In 2006, no one foresaw the disaster that was coming. The Great Recession of 2008 made everyone’s head spin as companies went into the white water, and employees went over the waterfall by the millions into unemployment. Now, in 2011, HR is in the spotlight (or is it the “hot seat?”) to “hire the best.” Companies are hiring carefully. Every hire is costly. Who will it be? The recent college graduate, freshly minted from school? Or an experienced boomer who can “hit the ground running” and deliver results from Day One? Not an easy choice.

4. Employee development - Although the need to develop people has always been important, in today’s intense do-more-with-less environment, employee development is a top priority. But there is a dilemma: Time. No one has the time for training. What’s the answer? (If you are interested, or bedeviled, call me. That’s what I do. The number is: 732-246-3014)

5. Driving business results – In 2006, HR was wondering how to get a seat at the table with the C-level leaders. Today, the CEO, and other members of senior management, are holding HR’s feet to the fire to deliver results. In a nutshell, HR is being held accountable to deliver. This is as it should be. But does HR know what, and how, to deliver?

HR Leaders: How did I do? What would you add? What is keeping you up at night?

Post Script: Since posting the above blog entry yesterday at HR Blognotions, it has been getting many hits, from all over the world. Today I noticed that HR Executive had asked the same question and found very similar results, with one extra concern: Stress. Their survey found that HR leaders are stressed out about talent poaching.

I think they are right about stress being on the short list of things keeping HR Leaders up at night. But they completely missed the really pressing issue.

The real issue is that the employees of the company are stressed out. Every one of my client organizations is asking me for help with managing stress.

Is there any wonder? After a recession, downsizing, and cost-cutting, the remaining workforce is under the gun to produce in a do-more-with-less environment. There's not enough hours in a day. Tempers are flaring. And the grass isn't any greener at the next company.

If part of HR's mission is "to ensure a good return on a company's investment in its people," HR had better be very concerned about the stress. Unrelenting high levels of stress are very bad for human beings. Bad for performance. Bad for morale. Bad for health. And ultimately bad for the bottom line.

Let me know if you need help with this. I do Stress Management too.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday August 31, 2011

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