An interview by Ron Thomas , Managing Director of Strategy Focused Group, with David C Forman , Author of ‘Fearless HR’ for The HR Observer
1. With your esteemed background, what caused you to write this book?
For the past fifteen years, I have had the pleasure of working with many of the top HR professionals in the world, both in helping to create the preparation materials for the GPHR certification and then extensively as the Chief Learning Officer for the Human Capital Institute. Because of my background in business and the training industry, I have always believed that the relationship between business results and human capital practices should be clearer and more direct. The book really stemmed from these two factors: my respect for HR leaders and practitioners, and then a strong business orientation.
2. Give us a quick overview of what you new book “Fearless HR is about?
The book evolved greatly over its two year development. Initially, I focused on a select group of key themes, such as HR being more data-driven and strategic-focused. But the more I listened and studied, I became convinced that HR could not move forward until it looked backward. Without confronting the historical perceptions that have constrained HR over the years, these beliefs would become even more engrained in corporate memory. Part I of Fearless HR deals directly with five such historical perceptions of HR and analyzes them in light of the latest research and leading practices. Part II is about what HR must do to achieve its purpose of driving business results. Over the years, HR has also suffered from unclear purposes and expectations. The Fearless HR story—about confronting past perceptions, seizing new opportunities and driving business results—is actually quite liberating.
3. Why did you name your book “Fearless HR”?
I have always believed that “getting a seat at the table” is a poor and insufficient aspiration for the HR profession. It is not about sitting mutely at a table among unequals, but speaking with conviction and boldness about how talent can flourish and the business can be strengthened. But HR cannot be “fearless” until it gets better, and this is what Part II of Fearless HR is all about.
4. There is a lot of discussion on the transformation of HR into a more strategic focus. Your book focuses on that theme. Can you give us your thoughts on HR playing a more strategic role within the organization?
The word strategic can mean many different things. It is often easier to say what is not strategic than what is. I like to think of HR being more strategic in three ways. The first is mindset: looking at the bigger picture, how money is made and value exchanged, how parts of the organization work together, having business and financial acumen and how external factors impact the business. The second is actions: how do HR’s actions align to strategy and strategic initiatives on the one hand, and on the other, how do they lead to measures and business results. This is the SIMO framework—strategy, initiatives, measures and outcomes. And the third is enablers that allow more time and focus to be spent on value-added activities. Some key enablers are technology (e.g., self-service systems) , process simplification and tools.
5. There is also a lot of discussion on metric/analytics in our profession. What are your thoughts on the use of this new tool into the strategy of the business?
HR professionals, as the saying goes, are good with words but not numbers. There is no question that HR must become a more data-driven and evidence-based practice. This is a challenge for all of us. I like to think of four types of metrics: activities, efficiency, effectiveness and outcomes. HR often tends to measure what is easiest, not what is important to measure. It is easy, for example, to count the number of hours in training, but what does this have to do with advancing the business forward? Nothing! Instead, HR professionals need to focus on effectiveness and outcome measures because these are what business leaders care about.
6. I love the Fearless HR video with its major insights. How did that come about since it gives a kind of roadmap of the importance of the department?
The “Fearless HR” story evolved over time. The book you see in front of you today is not what it started out to be; but I am very pleased with its progression. It is fundamentally a positive way forward for the profession, and a description of what has to happen for this to occur. HR must challenge itself to change as fast as the business is changing. There is a tendency for internally-facing functions to not feel the same urgency that externally-facing units do. This again is a primary reason why HR must be totally aligned with the business. One of the early reviewers of “Fearless HR” said that it is really a business book for HR. I loved that insight and have promptly borrowed it on many occasions.
7. You mention the business scorecard is HR scorecard, I love this importance connection because to get credibility It has to be about the business as a true partner. Give us your thoughts on this scorecard analogy.
HR’s purpose is to drive business results. It is that simple and yet that difficult. A unifying purpose improves alignment, reduces clutter, clarifies expectations, yields sharper focus and bolsters professional confidence. In this case, the unifying purpose of driving business results means that the business’s SWOT analysis sets the HR agenda, the business’s score card is the HR scorecard, and HR is held accountable for the same results as other business leaders. This purpose can enable HR to move beyond being just a partner to being a true business leader.
8. Can you give us your overview of the 5 themes that you mention in your book?
I wanted to construct “Fearless HR” around important themes and then role-model those themes in the book itself. The themes that form this infra-structure are: 1) business-focused, 2) data-driven, 3) evidence-based, 4) strategically-oriented and 5) execution-driven. The book reinforces these themes by such activities as: synthesizing over 100 research studies that challenge the five historical perceptions of HR; including 44 practical tools that can facilitate implementation; identifying business and HR models to improve strategic alignment and execution; and describing HR Levers to improve alignment, reduce costs and improve productivity.
9. How can our audience in the Middle East North Africa Region get more insight of this book and your possible regional presence?
I plan to spend 2016 and 2017 trying to improve the coverage, readership and reach of “Fearless HR.” I am undoubtedly biased but I believe it has great value for our profession going forward. There are several aspects to my plan. The first is to thank you for this opportunity to be featured in The HR Observer. It has been my pleasure, and I hope my comments have been useful to your audience. Let’s do it again.
Second, the book now has a dedicated web site: www.fearlesshr.com that also includes video segments on selected chapters and tools. This web site will be regularly updated, so please check it often. I will also be publishing posts on LinkedIn, and using both Facebook and Twitter for other communications. But the anchor is the dedicated web site.
I have had the pleasure of working and living in different parts of the world, and would welcome the opportunity to return to the Middle East and North Africa region if the opportunity presented itself. Our home in San Diego contains many lovely remembrances of our times there.