HR – Message from the Top


“…lookin’ good!”

The September issue of HR Magazine arrived at my house yesterday…yes, I’m a big enough geek to actually read something called HR Magazine, but that’s another article entirely.

For me, the most interesting part of the magazine is the message from SHRM CEO Henry G. Jackson. In every issue, “Hank” shares with us a message from on high meant to inspire the HR foot soldiers around the globe; sets the tone of the month’s issue, aligns the current HR mindset, and probably allows Hank to check the box for “to do’s” in September. But this month, ironically enough, the message is titled “Building Innovation With Accountability” [the choking sound you hear in the background is SMFT reflux]. Dear Mr. Jackson – your timing is really poor.

As noted in my last post, SHRM recently held elections for their 2013 Board of Directors. For the first time that anyone can remember, there was a quite a bit of attention on these elections. The SMFT (SHRM Members for Transparency) highlighted several issues they had with the current BOD, including (*gasp*) a lack of accountability.

The article, for the most part, is innocuous, but it does typify the disconnect between what Human Resources professes to be vs. the reality of what many HR practitioners face in the field. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Hank was in San Diego recently speaking to a “group” of CEO’s; this does not make me like him more.
  • Hank spoke to a group of CEO’s about “culture.” A powerful Hank quote, “The full power of culture trumps strategy every time.” This is the kind of quote that leads to HR people being left off meeting invitations.
  • Continuing….”if we develop a culture that fosters innovation and embraces accountability…we can inoculate organizations from disruptive innovation.” What the what? Nonsensical is the first term that comes to mind, but also remember this diatribe comes from the head of SHRM, an organization that maintains a very secretive position regarding their own dealings. The cobbler’s children clearly have no shoes.
  • Mr. Jackson does state that HR has “shared accountability”  for the bottom-line success of the corporation. Agreed. But then he takes a few leaps that may not ring true to the HR masses: “If we separate ourselves…employee engagement will suffer. And HR executives will not have fully embraced their responsibility as keeper of the company’s most important asset, and as the most critical C-suite position.” What. The. Hell.

Human Resources does have shared responsibility for the company’s results, just as every support function within the company shares responsibility. Try as we may, HR is not a core competency of an organization. We do not sell anything. We do not buy anything. We do not process anything (salute to Lloyd Dobler). I can appreciate the spirit of the statement, Human Resources is most definitely not “there” at this point in time.

Perspective may be part of the issue here. It should be noted that Mr. Jackson is a CPA. A worthy designation, but one that doesn’t impress the SMFT, which would much rather see SPHR or GPHR as a certification for the governing body CEO.

That’s the challenge with preaching for “accountability” ~ the mirror may show a splinter in your own eye.


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.


Talent Acquisition Executive, team-builder, and full-time dreamweaver. Creative Director, Content Designer, Writer, Speaker, Entrepreneur, terrible golfer, lover of The Art of War & Texas Hold 'Em.

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  • 09/14/2012, 12:30 pm

    Haven’t read the column yet, but one of the parts you quoted jumped out: “…we can inoculate organizations from disruptive innovation.” Huh?

    All innovation is disruptive at its very definition. Innovation is new and different – it is change from the status quo – and therefore a disruption of the Way Things Are. Organizations claim to want innovation, then resist attempts at Different. Would we have iPods if Steve Jobs shied away from disruption of the music industry? Would we have iPads if he had been concerned with sticking to how the computer industry is done? Could Henry Ford have changed the entire auto industry without disruption? Would the Wright Brothers have gotten off the ground without challenging a few long held beliefs?

    All great (and not so great) innovation causes disruption. If we can’t handle disruption, then we don’t want innovation. OR…. we could use buzzwords so we sound progressive and then neuter them and make them safe for widescale consumption.

    And why on earth would we want to “inoculate organizations from disruptive innovation”? I sure hope the answer isn’t: “because we’re HR and that’s what HR does… “

    • 09/14/2012, 12:57 pm

      Broc,Your reaction was similar to my own…it seemed to me an attempt at describing “good” innovation vs. “bad” innovation, and how a positive culture encourages more of the former? There’s more than a few “what?” quotes in the article!              HR Hardball™Assess ~ Build ~ Coach ~ DevelopJohn Whitaker  817.733-3052http://www.linkedin.com/in/whitakerhrhardball         www.HrHardball.com

      • 09/17/2012, 8:27 pm

        Ok, I just tracked down the column and read (and re-read) the paragraph I was concerned about and have a new interpretation of what I think he was saying. I now believe he is saying that by focusing on creating a culture of innovation, a company is more likely to deal with the change caused by disruptions in the industry/society. So, companies that deal with change well will be better positioned to deal with change – hard to disagree as it’s self-defining. Not very insightful but true. And, it perhaps underscores my initial concerns of lip service to innovation without awareness and acceptance of all that goes with it.

        • 09/17/2012, 11:18 pm

          now I’m even more confused.  🙂              HR Hardball™Assess ~ Build ~ Coach ~ DevelopJohn Whitaker  817.733-3052http://www.linkedin.com/in/whitakerhrhardball         www.HrHardball.com

    • Lisa Chase
      09/15/2012, 2:32 pm

      You pointed out one of my huge huge peeves with the corporate mindset. Innovation, as you point out, is disruptive in being a new and different way of doing the same thing, or in doing something entirely new. I believe that most corporations don’t want to actually innovate, they want to use the vocabulary of innovation and keep doing the same old same old. That way, unless you look behind the words you can be convinced that there is something better going on when really they’re just hiding and hoping the wave of change will pass them by and leave them unscathed.

      • 09/16/2012, 11:08 am

        indeed Lisa – I’ve also seen many companies profess a culture change or a mindset of “risk-taking” only to act differently in the way they operate in reality. In Texas, we might say “Just because you wear a badge, it don’t make you Sheriff.”              HR Hardball™Assess ~ Build ~ Coach ~ DevelopJohn Whitaker  817.733-3052http://www.linkedin.com/in/whitakerhrhardball         www.HrHardball.com