"Strategically aligned to the business"

Keith Hammond's snark meter goes to eleven in his piece, "Why I Hate HR" (you might need a fast Company Subscription to view but I think the link goes public after the issue's been out a while). I agree with some of the points he's trying to make.

"Strategically aligned to the business" is a little bit of an inside joke on my team (we are a Staffing team, remember). Frankly, in my job, I don't want to be strategically aligned to the business. I want the business to tell me what they want (hmm, there could sometimes be a method to getting that info out of them, but does everything need to be "strategic"?). The strategy comes when you figure out how to give them what they ask for. Having a clear picture of the business need and being strategically aligned to the marketplace is what's important. Anyway, it's fun to come up with creative mad libs for "strategically aligned to ______"...seriously, play with your friends. Today, for example, I am strategically aligned to my e-mail inbox. Last night I was strategically aligned to a nice bottle of Marquis Philips Shiraz. That's the extent to which the word strategic has ceased to denote something truly strategic. One good word, overused and ruined forever. If it went away, I wouldn't miss it a bit.

It's easy to deflect some of Keith's criticism, though, since I never really thought of myself as an "HR" person, not that I think there's anything wrong with that. I just identify more with "Staffing". Whenever we have cross-company HR meetings and someone says "HR", I think they are talking about someone else; the people that handle what happens after someone is hired. Staffing isn't blameless, though, in Keith's analysis. Sometimes, I worry that companies focus too much on process and not enough about adding value (for example, forwarding a resume to a hiring manager and asking the manager if they want you to phone interview the candidate adds little value versus learning the needs, screening the candidate and making a recommendation). And as I've said before, the way to find out if you are adding value in a service organization is to actually ask your customer. I think we are more likely to hear that they want more or better candidates than stuff about process frameworks, then again, they know not to come to me for the latter.  Process just isn't my passion (good thing I have the job I have).  Every time a process map is produced, my co-workers get a little joy, I think, by observing the look on my face which may involve my eyes rolling toward the back of my head (I try not to make it that obvious but they are staring right at me!). I guess I am always thinking "is this going to make my job easier or harder?" and "who asked for this process map?" Of course, all just my opinion. During my career I've met recruiters and HR folks on both sides of the coin and I feel pretty lucky here. When Keith describes the type of person that won't go into HR (top MBA, successful in business), it actually described some of our HR leaders here. And we actually do have a group within the business here that focuses in career development within the marketing function (yeah, they are marketing people that do actually partner with HR). So I have to think that the business is getting some value if they are putting resources toward it. So take Keith's points with one rounded teaspoon of salt and decide for yourself. Which is reminding me to ask some if these people to guest-blog.

Anyway, I don't agree with all of the things he says (a little heavy handed in your criticism...almost like he's angry...maybe it was the Vegas heat), but many of them are true...something that we can learn from at least (perception = reality? well, it does when the business funds your department). That's not to say "HR is bad", but what can we (as a function) do better. Last week I had a conversation about the relative importance of Staffing to the business. I've always felt comfortable with us being a function that "supports" the business rather than "partners with" the business.  Because the thing that gets me excited about my job is the idea that I hire people that get cool stuff done, the kind of stuff that makes shareholders happy (hey, I am a shareholder too). At the end of the day, the business really just want us to fill their open positions with great people so work can get done. And I am OK with that.


Comments (11)

  1. Jonathan says:

    This is one of the phrases that deserves its own space in the "Buzzword Bingo" form that’s been floating around the internet for a couple of years. The whole phrase is another way of saying "on the same page" or "valuable to revenue" and in fact it always appeared to me like someone used a Thesaurus to "upgrade" it.

    It would be great if we talked normally again, instead of buzz phrases that could be said more coherently.

    I guess I’m not "strategically aligned to the use of the phrase"

  2. Nathan says:

    Microsoft isn’t typical of, um, anything, so I’m not surprised to read that you don’t see yourself in Keith’s article (but we all knew he wasn’t writing about you, didn’t we?). With talent such a key part of technology companies, his points may be less typical of *many* tech companies. I wonder if a broader tour of American business would support his position more than a tech-centric view? I’ve certainly met people who described their company’s HR (including staffing) as impediments rather than supporting the business. The existence of counterexamples among some elite companies doesn’t undermind the observation.

  3. Lourdes says:

    ::: laughing :::

    Is being "strategically aligned" the same as "achieving synergy"??

    Perhaps I need to go see a chiropracter… my strategic alignment may need adjusting.

  4. Ross says:

    Keith has some great points, and when you cut through the fluff of most buzzwords/phrases, what are you left with? A lot more "mus" without the "tard" (pronounced – turd!). Yes indeed, a strategy is more than just a concept.

  5. G Steinkamp says:

    OK – So I am not in technology but I am a sales manager at a large organization. I agree with Heather that for the most part "Staffing" could be separated from the term HR. Actually when I think of HR – I think of "process" – which in most companies is a necessary evil to protect against litigation in the name of keeping things consistent for all employees. The problem arises when the process is derived out of unnecessary fears and it gets in the way of the main objective – DRIVING THE BUSINESS. Therefore as much of a cliche as it is – having HR aligned with the business goals is crucial. Now – from a "staffing" perspective – there is accountability on both sides. The team with the need must clearly and concisely communicate what they are looking for – even if it is outside of the norm. Staffing must then deliver – even if it means taking a new approach or sourcing from new areas. The bottom line is that HR departments work best with other departments when they are STRATEGICALLY ALIGNED TO EACH OTHER.

    ps Fight On

  6. The problem with Keith’s analysis is that it based on stereotypes within the HR community. I will use my wife who is taking a few years off to be home with the kids as an example. She has a MA in Industrial Psychology and Organizational Development from Antioch University Seattle and worked for the largest private label diaper manufacturer as the corporate HR manager until she left. The article was a bit offensive to her when I discussed it with her. From his points let’s examine them:

    1. "HR people aren’t the sharpest tacks in the box" — How can anyone make a statement like this. It is like saying that IT people cannot deal with other people. Blanket statements will lose me from the get go. My wife and most of the people I met that worked in her department were very bright and intelligent. Most chose HR because they liked one or more aspects of the job.

    2. "HR pursues efficiency in lieu of value" — What??? So hiring the best people and training them does not add value to a company? All most companies have to value themselves is the people they hire. The example of the "talented young marketing exec" is very weak and is not only borderline unethical but really is a reach. My wife tried to get the people she hired into the best fit within the company and not into a certain place.

    3. "HR isn’t working for you" — Then who does? Who do you go to when you need help with your manager or with a sex, religious or race issue? Go to the people that are supposed to be the experts with your company. The examples given are also unethical and really would not be tolerated in most organizations. My wife took every issue that people came to her as serious and did the best for them. Another insult.

    4. "The corner office doesn’t get HR (and vice versa)" — This is true but is true for most areas outside sales, accounting and sometimes engineering. If you want to be a C level person then HR might not be the way to go.

    He does wrap up with saying that HR can be done right. I agree that it can and I saw a glimpse when my wife was working. I think Keith is trying to use extreme examples to make a point but then makes the story sound like all of HR works in such extremes.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hey, check in out, Steinkamp posted a comment on my blog! (He’s my buddy from college that I haven’t seen in…OMG…almost 15 years) Cool! Hey "G", I am in the bay area week after next…have time for lunch? Let me know!

    Chris..I agree with you. The stereotyping is wrong. I’ve seen a lot of what he talks about happen at other companies that I have worked at, but the blanet statements are over the tops (but, drrr, I might be too stoopid to judge that since I am technicall in HR). #2 above I have seen happen and I’ve gotten sucked into it myself. #3 I think are good examples of where HR adds a lot of value, though I am not sure how much time is spent doing that versus other things. On #4, I think we are lucky that SteveB does get HR and appreciates people and the person running HR is from the business (I always love it when a business person runs HR). Anyway, you are right, extreme examples and blanket statements are too much. The stuff he mentions does happen but he painted the picture with broad stroked and it almost sounds like he is trying to prove something.

  8. Ben says:

    I think there’s something missing in Heather’s assesment of where HR stands in the eyes of most people. Yes, HR plays a significant role in most corporations. However, that does not mean that it actually makes them better or worse. It just means it’s a determining factor.

    Staffing is very important to corporations. Yet, still today the easiest way to get into any corporation is by knowing an insider willing to help. The piles of resumes that are received in HR departments probably make choosing the best candidates impossible.

    On the issue regarding on whom to go to when an issue arises. I have to agree with KH who mentions the ineffectiveness of HR departments. At the end of the day HR works for the company and not for the individuals. It will do whatever is in the company’s best interest which may not align with the individual’s best interest.

    Finally, I agree that there are intelligent people in all sections of a corporation. However, not all companies are like MS. They don’t have the monies to hire people who can actually add the kind of value that HR adds @ MS. Small companies will hire HR people who can get the clerical work done. They won’t look for people who can add value because they can’t afford them.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ben-good points. Reminds me of small companies where the person in charge of "personnel" is also the office manager (I’ve seen this before).

    I still truly believe, though, that HR in general (Staffing included) makes the biggest impact where the business actually needs help (hiring, people issues and those areas specific to training, promoting, evalauting talent…there’s more). I’ve seen companies where HR gets involved in things that the business doesn’t want. Now there’s a slippery slope ; )

  10. HeatherLeigh says:

    Here’s a Wharton article that takes a more studied approach (actually discusses what true strategic HR looks like rather than complaining that it’s not stragegic and that we are all dumb): http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/index.cfm?fa=viewArticle&id=1253

    Thanks to Mark E for the link

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