It’s long been said that Human Resources (HR) is a woman’s game. After all, it’s about the soft skills and “touchy feel-y” stuff—the things that women are supposedly great at.My entire career reinforces that. Every HR team I’ve ever been a part of has had more many women than men. Forbes cited HR Manager as a “best paying job for women” in 2011, with over 70 per cent of the profession dominated by females. Even in business school, there were only a handful of men in my human capital classes, and even fewer who chose to focus in HR.
I’m not denying there’s a reason HR is dominated by women. The profession has its roots in the welfare secretaries of the early 1900s, whose primary role was to ensure safety of the mill workers. Those positions were completely occupied by women and eventually evolved to caretaker, benefits and party-planning roles.
But HR today is different. Whether you love or hate your HR team, it can’t be a women-only game anymore. It’s gender, position, role and industry-agnostic. Your business cannot be successful unless you can develop and manage talent—the crux of HR.
One of the firms I partnered with, Evviva Brands, describes itself by saying “we put people on the balance sheet.” As an MBA, I love that sentiment. The idea of measuring the value of a company through talent isn’t new—McKinsey wrote about the metric of “profit per employee” in 2007. And the best venture capitalists know that valuation has to include both an assessment of the management team and the talent pool.
But what exactly does “people on the balance sheet” mean, and why does every manager have to understand HR? Because we all do it every day. Take a marketing manager. He may not touch finance or operations every single day. But he does touch HR. Not just every day, but multiple times a day.
When you hire, promote or fire an employee—sure, that’s obvious. But what about deciding which employee works on a specific project? Or how to handle the disengaged team member? Or how to deal with the person ready to walk out the door because the CEO just made an unpleasant announcement?
The relationships you develop with your talent, and the choices you make every day on how to engage and develop them, are directly correlated to bottom-line performance. Apple’s meteoric stock rise wasn’t random. Nor was the company’s investor concerns after Steve Jobs’ passing. Apple was keen to preserve his eye for talent and his management style.
Call it people management, human capital, HR or whatever you want. Whatever it is, it’s not touchy feel-y or emotional. It’s a pure, balance sheet, analyst-watching, performance-driving business necessity. But if you leave it to your largely female HR team, or assume the ladies will take care of it, you’re not just mistaken, you’re in the red.
Susan Strayer LaMotte is the founder of Exaqueo and is known for helping companies figure out the talent problems that impede growth and stunt culture. She has worked inside startup, high-growth and Fortune 500 companies. Her firepower comes from a passion for why talent matters.
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