In a sort of strange turn of events, I had two very similar conversations with HR professionals within the space of a recent week’s time. I think that what they had to say holds an important message – especially for HR in smaller organizations. Both individuals to whom I spoke work in small companies that are crossing the bridge (or trying to) from hopeful start-up to growing, healthy, sustainable business.
“We’ve had phenomenal growth in the past few years,” Tom said proudly. “All three of our lines of business are thriving.”
“That’s great news for HR,” I replied. “You must be incredibly busy. But that kind of growth must be giving you all kinds of opportunities to show just how much HR can contribute.”
“Well, sure we’re busy. With payroll and benefits – the admin work is endless – we’re adding new employees every week lately.” Tom paused, and it was quiet for a few moments. “What do you mean ‘all kinds of opportunities?’”
“You know, things like planning … needs assessments … talent acquisition strategies to help meet your growth goals … training … all the workforce considerations that are important to a company like yours. There are many opportunities for HR to really shine, really show what you can do. But most importantly, to help ensure you have the people and the skills when and where they’re needed.” I waited out the even longer silence on Tom’s end of the phone line.
Finally, he said, “We aren’t doing proactive planning – at least not in any formal, structured way. It just hasn’t been a priority. We are making so much money and things are going so well that we haven’t needed to do any of that back-end stuff. I think we’ll get around to it – maybe when things start to slow down our management will see a need for it.”
My conversation with Tom was troubling. I couldn’t believe his company’s top brass couldn’t or wouldn’t see beyond their current state. It’s wonderful to be a great success, but without the right framework in place to sustain it, how can that success last? A business that doesn’t take accountability for mapping its future course faces tremendous risk.
Not two days after my call with Tom, I had a very similar conversation with the HR director in another thriving young company. Gloria proudly told me that hiring was fast and furious, adding that HR was hard at work on beginning a formal performance management program. But she also confessed her concern that rapid growth and a lack of planning ahead put the organization at risk for losing its very positive and innovative culture. She worried, too, about HR’s ability to find the qualified people it needed to drive continued customer happiness.
I share these two encounters because it amazed me that my colleagues’ companies had allowed success to trip them up … to prevent their implementing the kind of fundamental planning initiatives vital to keeping that success alive for the long term. Even though Gloria’s boss realized it was time to take action, Gloria and her staff are racing to catch up – planning should have started long ago.
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