Human resources isn’t a thing we do, it’s the thing that runs our business.
— Steve Wynn, Business Magnate

Since the rise of generation Y, cloud computing and ISIS, bad news has become easier to deliver.  Bad news: Human Resources Management (HRM) is losing it's true value.  HR's value is being lost to the winds of economic evolution.  In Deloitte's 2015 Human Capital Trends report, only 22% of respondents believe that HR can adapt to the changing workforce. Only 20% felt that HR could plan adequately for the companies future talent needs.  Good news: this is the greatest opportunity for an HR renaissance since the realization that our labor force needed training, development and other benefits at the beginning of the 20th century.  This post is about HR's pivotal fight to understand two realities: people logistics and people synergistics.  The victor will recruit, develop and provide resources to one of the most dynamic human workforces in history.  The victor will become the sinew of corporate progress.  There can be only one loser...HR.  

In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first...The first object of any good system must be that of developing first class men.
— Frederick W. Taylor, Mechanical Engineer & Early Management Consultant

In preparation for this article, I did some research on the history of human resources management.  It turns out, the entire inception of HR began with the topic of economic efficiency.  It took a man named Frederick Winslow Taylor to realize a key part of the economic efficiency in manufacturing was human labor.  The later development of the Hawthorne Effect changed the way we understood labor behavior.  The Hawthorne studies were designed to understand the effects on worker productivity through introducing varying degrees of light on the assembly line.  What's interesting is that productivity did go up when the study began, but not simply because lights were brighter or darker, but because the workers felt like someone was taking an interest in them.  When the study ended, productivity went down.  The significance of the Hawthorne studies reveals the early importance of human talent and needs before distractions like compliance became the main focal point and time-suck of all HR departments.  In a 2012 article in Fist Full of Talent, contributor Meredith Soleau wrote that "CEO's complain that HR puts compliance first, people second."   We have reversed the initial intention of HR.  I've maid the claim in other posts that technology is not getting rid of human labor, it is liberating it from the chains of left brain mechanical work.  This is why companies like Zenifits will aid in this HR renaissance not hinder it. 

I ended up being the guy who had to deal with all this H.R. stuff at the company, and it was an amount of time that I deeply resented.
— Parker Conrad, CEO of Zenifits

The battle HR is fighting is not unlike what the workforce or leadership is going through as well.  Transition is all around, but HR has an advantage because it knows what it's supposed to do, but it's energy is torn between two tanks of fuel: 

The two energy tanks of HR: Logistics & Synergistics

Imagine a dashboard on a car.  This HR dashboard has a car with two fuel tanks.  One labeled logistics the other synergistics.  Below lists some of the HR activities in each tank.  I realize there is a great deal more that HR professions do.  

The logistics tank covers:

  • On-boarding
  • Payroll
  • Insurance
  • Legal
  • Layoffs
  • Benefits
  • Movement of workers & offices

The synergistics tank deals with:

  • Recruitment
  • Intelligence
  • Strategy
  • Training
  • Alignment
  • Retention
  • Alumni

Now imagine an innovation capacity meter between them.  The meter goes up when more time is committed to the synergistic tank.  The meter goes down when more time is committed to the logistics tank.  It is not enough to simply cut logistics costs.  We must increase output on synergistic work.

The way I look at this is HR has become what the Marine Corps calls the "S-4."  This is the logistics support office of any combat unit.  They handle the beans, bullets and bandaids for the unit.  This office is widely perceived in the same way HR is today.  "Get me the talent, get me the weapons, get me the training facilities, get me the travel arrangements, etc."  HR must make itself the "S-2."  This was where I operated as a Marine Sniper.  This is intelligence.  While not part of the standard group of infantry men, the intelligence office has officers and operatives all charged with making the unit more aware of the threat and providing solutions to deal with it.  This is the commanding officer's second brain.  HR must become the provider of strategy, intelligence and talent.  Here are four ways we begin positioning HR for the future: 

4 Tactics to Win the HR War

1.  Simplify human logistics
You're dealing with the WOD (Workforce on Demand).  Most demands involve the logistics tank.  Make on-boarding swift, accurate, flexible and automated.  Outsource or automate legal case filings or data gathering.  Remember, you can't prevent a lawsuit claim.  Anyone can bring one for any reason at any time.  If you have insurance, follow labor laws and operate honorable when hiring and firing, let other components fall to agencies who specialize in this.  Zenefits is a great option to begin cutting logistics costs.  

2.  Reinvigorate the calendar with human synergistics
Integrate long-term employee and leadership development programs.  Meet with each department, so you will understand employee archetypes, talent needs and careers desires.  I mentioned The Alliance in my last post and I haven't found a better framework for determining a way to honestly develop top-tier talent.  Contact Allied Talent for their help.  This effort is critical to attracting and keeping the right people for the companies' mission. 

3.  Stop forcing culture on people.  
HR is not a culture provider, it is a human capital maximizer.  If you make sure logistics is swift and synergistics is genuine than culture will form based on performance.  Culture comes from people feeling like they are great at what they do and that they belong to an organization who shares their values and cares about their future growth.  You are the ambassador of a bigger vision for the company, you don't have time for decorating desks.  The talent you recruit, develop and retain must have a career vision in alignment with that mission.  Please resist another birthday cake, corporate picnic or Biggest Loser challenge.  Independent departments or workers can plan and execute these fun events very well on their own and they'd be more genuine.   

4.  Become intelligence operatives
You must begin meeting with people inside and outside your industry who are taking their companies to a new frontier.  Your job is gather information about the industry, innovative practices and coming trends.  Report this back to the executive team with solutions or strategies to capitalize on this information.  Deepen your understanding of what each department values.  Engineering will need much different things than marketing or sales.  Social media analytics can assist in understanding some behavior if your organization is too large to meet with each person or department.  

In economic terms, we’ve always thought of work as a disutility - as something you do to get something else. Now it’s increasingly a utility - something that’s valuable and worthy in its own right.
— Daniel H. Pink, Bestselling Author of Drive, A Whole New Mind & To Sell is Human

Does your HR department "run your business" as Steve Wynn suggests?  I would go a step further and say does your HR department run the pulse of your business?  What would you do if you had a department or one person on your team committed to getting you the best talent, insightful intelligence and able to provide strategies for both?  This should be the new value for HR.  

In Deloitte's 2015 Human Capital Trends report, leadership is the number one concern for most companies.  Leadership is deeply concerned with talent acquisition and succession.  HR must be measured on the relationship between innovative capability and life-long engagement.  Remember, innovation comes from the group.  Lone geniuses are great, but the collection of talented people with the freedom to find solutions is where most innovation happens today.  And that kind of environment breeds loyalty whether they leave the company or not.  They will always be grateful for the gift of getting to do great work.  Imagine a worker at your company who left 10 years ago, started their own firm and is quoted in an interview saying "If it wasn't for the people and the work we did at company X, I wouldn't be where I am today."  This is a good metric and a great new reality for HR.

Gary Xavier, MBA, PGA is a group cohesion expert, leadership speaker and former Marine Sniper who works to mobilize bold leaders within forward-thinking organizations. He is the Chief Exploration Officer of The Blade Group LLC, a provider of leadership speaking, training and visual media based in Northern California. Gary is a member of the National Speakers Association and the Association for Talent Development. Follow Gary on Twitter @garyjxavier or email him at