Why I Hate Mission Statements—But Love Missions

MissionNinety-nine percent of the mission statements out there are useless. Have you read them? Indeed, some read more like an essay than a statement.

The Global Beauty Leader. We will build a unique portfolio of Beauty and related brands, striving to surpass our competitors in quality, innovation and value, and elevating our image to become the Beauty Company most women turn to worldwide.

The Women’s Choice for Buying. We will become the destination store for women, offering the convenience of multiple brands and channels, and providing a personal high touch shopping experience that helps create lifelong customer relationships.

The Premier Direct Seller. We will expand our presence in direct selling and lead the reinvention of the channel, offering an entrepreneurial opportunity that delivers superior earnings, recognition, service and support, making it easy and rewarding to be affiliated with Avon and elevating the image of our industry.

The Best Place to Work. We will be known for our leadership edge, through our passion for high standards, our respect for diversity and our commitment to create exceptional opportunities for professional growth so that associates can fulfill their highest potential.

The Largest Women’s Foundation. We will be a committed global champion for the health and well-being of women through philanthropic efforts that eliminate breast cancer from the face of the earth, and that empower women to achieve economic independence.

The Most Admired Company. We will deliver superior returns to our shareholders by tirelessly pursuing new growth opportunities while continually improving our profitability, a socially responsible, ethical Company that is watched and emulated as a model of success.

Some say virtually nothing, like this one: “To grow profitably and provide shareholder value.” Who doesn’t want those things?

Most companies use fluffy language provided by a marketing firm or a consultant that sounds polished, but remove anything that makes them stand out as an organization.

What good are these statements? How do they help your business? The short answer: They don’t.

Whenever I walk into an organization and ask employees what the organization’s mission is, I typically get varied responses:

  1. “I don’t know.”
  2. “Let me look that up”
  3. “Let me find that for you.”
  4. The blank stare.

Basically, I get a different answer from everybody.

Mission statements hang on a wall or adorn a website page and that is about all. But a mission has the potential to guide organizations into real action.

For example, during the Cola Wars, Pepsi had one of the best missions. Simply put in just two words the mission was “Beat Coke.” (By the way, it was at a time when Pepsi made Coke a little nervous because they made strides during that time.)

Granted, there is a life expectancy to that mission, and it needs to change or be refreshed when it is no longer relevant. However, talk about, clear, concise and compelling—and real.

  1. Missions are known. Think about it: Would you send a group of soldiers into a conflict without a mission or without them knowing the mission? No way. But most organizations do just that.
  2. Missions are a rallying cry or call to action. Missions give us direction and something for which to shoot. I love St. Jude’s mission, for example. They will not settle until there is a cure for cancer. In fact, they consistently reference their success as the day they will put themselves out of business. They know why they come to work everyday!
  3. Missions are influencers of our work. When a mission is clear, concise, and compelling, it influences the way we work. Take Pepsi’s mission to “Beat Coke.” Every employee could ask themselves each day: “What am I going to do to help us beat Coke today?” What a powerful question. Try doing that with the mission statement at the top of this post.
  4. Missions are bigger than just one person. Missions bind groups of people together for a common goal or effort and help people rise above themselves. When done right, missions create pride and engagement. Homewood Suites, a consistent J.D. Powers Award winner, teaches its employees that their job is about providing a “Home away from home.” A place where extended stay travelers (a.k.a. Road Warriors) feel comfortable. Their jobs are bigger than their roles. Missions are about culture.
  5. Missions are constantly being revisited. Missions are alive and active. Whether you hold shift meetings, monthly meetings, use performance appraisals, or hold coaching sessions, missions are built in the operation and people threads of the business. We should measure how we are doing against our mission, train people on the mission and brainstorm new ways to make our mission stay fresh and alive. We should find ways to help people identify with and personalize their approach to the mission.

Missions are the glue that holds us together as an organization and connects us with our customers. Missions are the vehicle that helps us all drive in the same direction.

Bottom line: I hate mission statements. But I love missions!

Originally published in ATD


If You Can See It, You Can Be It!

What Are You Visualizing, and What Does It Say About You?

It has been said that everything important, including every great company, begins with a single idea in someone’s mind. A simple vision of what is possible is affirmed, nurtured and supported until it becomes reality.

For individuals seeking to set a new or improved course for their life, visualization can be used as a way to embrace this new “picture” of the future. Affirmation of this new vision is a way in which we can move out of our comfort zone to adopt the new vision and establish behaviors that will support it. Engagement depends upon our ability to envision what is possible and commit to achieve it.

As we move through life, we gather thoughts and perceptions based on past experience. We may not realize they are there, until our beliefs are challenged or we find they are limiting to us in some way. At this point, we have the opportunity to visualize what is most important, and reconsider our beliefs and experiences.

This can be difficult, because without a special effort on our part, these perceptions can shape the way we look at the past, live in the present, and plan for the future. They can become like a “movie” we replay in our mind over and over again, and which seems comfortable and familiar.

Those of you who have children know we start enjoying movies, and playing them over and over, at an early age! Children can watch movies tirelessly, memorizing their favorite stories, dialog, and songs, enjoying them no matter how many times they have seen them. Often, these movies are hopeful and inspiring!

When we create our own “life movie” it is important to think about the theme we want to create, and what is most important to us. We want to focus on the happy ending we seek. Like the child, if unchecked, we will memorize that movie and use it as a filter in our own world. If you don’t believe it, consider the conversations around you! How often do people tell stories again and again about something that happened in the past, allow them to influence behavior and relationships in the present, and cling to them in considering the future..

As you become conscious of what you will allow in your movie, the same process that may have restricted you, will now work in your favor. As you become more engaged with this new vision, you will watch it again and again! It will provide a positive way to consider what is possible, and to learn from what happens along the way. It will become natural to you to look for those things that will support this vision. You will, as the saying goes, “become the change you seek in the world.”

Napoleon Hill described the importance of being purposeful about your vision by saying,

“… imagination is the most marvelous, miraculous, inconceivably powerful force the world has ever known.”

How will you inspire yourself and others with imagination? Here are some thoughts as you begin:

  • Create a plan for your life that will help you identify your vision, goals and purpose, and to pursue them.
  • Consider the people and events most important to your vision.
  • Find comfort in the memories, relationships and resources that inspire you.
  • Value the physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial assets that will be important to your vision.
  • Create structure, allow for the unexpected, and remember that Rome was not built in a day!
  • Congratulate yourself for success.
  • Remember that failure is part of success.
  • Revise your plan when needed – this is a process of discovery!




The Inclusion Challenge – Question of the day

The workplace is more diverse now then ever before. How has the diversity helped your organization? And what are your biggest inclusion challenges?

Freedom is not free, and neither is engagement.

man-free-signThe 4th of July – Independence day.  It is the day we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.  From there, The United States of America went on to form a government and agree to a constitution.

However, the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution by themselves are just pieces of paper.  Many other countries that suffer from coups, military control, and sectarian violence have had similar pieces of paper.  If you look beyond the documents and think about history the real work and tests were in the political upheavals and wars such as the American Revolution and the Civil War.  And we are retested throughout our history.

We paid highly for our freedoms.  We paid dearly for those pieces of paper.  And in the end the spirit of “One Nation” won out.  Those pieces of paper reflect work, pain, sacrifice and the choice to rise above oneself or a particular group.

Engagement is no different.  Survey time –  It is the day we commemorate the adoption of the idea that our employees are valued.  Here is the difference between American History and corporate history.  Too many organizations, leaders, and managers see the survey as the work, the pain, the cost.  We are interested in results and fixing items, or as I like to call it, treating symptoms.

The real work and the significant investment come after a survey.  Most companies spend 80 cents on the survey and 20 cents on follow up.  That concept needs to be turned upside down.  An easy way to test my theory out is to look at survey results of companies.  One of the lowest scoring items on any engagement survey is…

“I had an opportunity to discuss the previous organizational survey results with a member of management.”

In fact, in a recent survey we just completed only 21% of employees felt that they had a real opportunity to discuss the previous results with a member of management.  If a company cannot even meet this threshold there is no way they are supporting an engaged culture.

Let’s put a stake in the ground and change our approach to engagement.

  • Start a conversation.  A conversation is a two way dialogue.  Engagement follow ups and action planning needs to be a conversation.  Unfortunately, most managers are held accountable for having a plan not engaging their employees.  Managers comb through the results, diagnose the issues without really understanding them, create an action plan on how to fix engagement levels, and then share that plan and work with their employees.  Employees bless the plan because they do not want to be seen as questioning their manager’s thought process and ideas.  Hey, they are not stupid, and the employees feel less engaged after the survey follow up process then before.
  • Fix the problem.  One reason we talk with our employees or hold focus groups is to better understand the “Why” behind the ratings.  If employees don’t feel recognized it could be for any number of reasons.  Maybe the recognition is not specific.  Maybe you rely too much on programs rather than making it personal.  It could be that you are not providing enough recognition.  Or it could be that you are counteracting the recognition by your ability to find things wrong more than you do right.  I could go on.  The point is, knowing the “Why” is what helps you move forward.
  • Execute a strategic, disciplined approach.  If you want employees to believe that the company truly cares about employee engagement then make sure you have a plan.  When will they hear about the overall results?  How? Will they receive anything in writing?  When will they hear directly about their team or department?  This effort should be run like a military campaign from the top down.  It should be as transparent as possible and ensure that everyone receives the same or similar messaging.
  • Make the invisible visible.  You will not get credit for actions your employees cannot see or connect to the survey feedback.  It is critically important to tie an organization’s, department’s or manager’s decision and actions back to the survey feedback.  Too many times organizations make positive changes, but do not get credit for them.  Marketing is a part of responding.
  • Create a culture.  What happens after 2-3 months when the action plans are finished?  Back to business as usual.  And all that progress is lost because employees see the survey and action planning as an event.  But nothing really changes.  Creating an engaged environment is more about creating a culture that breeds trust, reduces fear, creates connections between employees and the organization, promotes the ability to focus on the right things in the right way and to work with pride toward something that has meaning.  In order to create that culture and maintain it everything changes.  The way we talk, behave, our meeting structure, our organizational structure, who we hire, who we promote, how we hire and promote, the things we measure, the stories we tell and so on.

Surveys tell us how well we did last year at creating and maintaining that culture.  In the end, responding to the survey is not the answer.  Why?  Because those survey results reflect the work, pain, sacrifice and the choice to rise above oneself or a particular group, or our inability to do so.  It is not the paper that matters.    It is price we paid for that culture.









Invention Factories and Open Learning

Thomas Edison is often referred to as the father of invention. But in my view, Edison was the first — and possibly finest — CLO.

Consider the learning environment he built during his most prolific period — between 1876 and 1882 — when he housed a team of two dozen in Menlo Park, N.J. During those six years, more than 400 patents were filed, creating products that shaped the 20th century: the phonograph, the carbon telephone transmitter, stations that could generate and transmit electricity, and the incandescent light bulb.

Edison understood that employees are only partly driven by remuneration — his young team members each earned less than a teacher’s salary. But he achieved engagement by creating an open, empowering and collaborative learning environment. One employee, Francis Upton, wrote to his father shortly after arriving at Menlo Park, “The strangest thing to me is that the $12 I get each Saturday for my labor does not seem like work, but like study, and I enjoy it.”
I highlight Edison’s invention factory because innovative learning environments didn’t just appear overnight in Silicon Valley startups. His vision and imagination inspired many of the leading creative workplaces of the past 50 years.

Edison put in place key structural and cultural building blocks that still inspire imitation. First, he believed in a silo-free machine shop culture where peer learning across disciplines prevailed.

Spencer Silver, one of 3M’s senior scientists and a co-inventor of the Post-It note, said in “A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story,” “Thomas Edison believed that a small group of people with varied backgrounds could be the most inventive. That’s what I found when I joined (3M’s) Central Research. I could talk to an analytical chemist, a physicist, people working in biology and organic chemistry — people in all the sciences. They were all within 50 yards.”

Second, innovative learning environments are inherently democratic. Look at photographs taken inside the machine shop at Menlo Park; it’s impossible to tell which one is Edison. He knew that good ideas could come from anywhere and that creativity hates hierarchy.

Third, Edison’s learning environment was highly social. When he set up the organ for communal singing, or provided beer and food for all-night invention sessions, it wasn’t very different than the free massages and food available at Google Inc. It probably provided the inspiration for Mark Zuckerberg’s pizza-fueled all-night “hackathons” at Facebook Inc. Not only social, Menlo Park was open: Visitors were allowed easy access to the shops, whether they were young boys looking for inspiration or rival inventors looking for ideas.

I call these kinds of innovative environments learning commons, but sadly, many formal learning contexts still operate as closed learning enclosures. One of the driving themes of my book “OPEN” is the process of “disintermediation”: removing the intermediaries in how we conduct all transactions, including learning.
This is the CLO’s dilemma. Outside the workplace, we all learn informally and socially. In learning theory terms, we’re moving from pedagogy — tutor-led; through andragogy — self-directed; to heutagogy — self-determined. In the future, we can expect to be more in control of our learning in the workplace.

So, how does today’s CLO build an innovative, user-driven learning commons? In interviews with CLOs, there was a palpable sense of frustration that their desire to encourage open, collaborative learning cultures was often undermined by corporate incentives that encourage individualism and short-term metrics.
“What gets badged as ‘organizational learning’ is really just the mass training of individuals,” said Matt Moore, knowledge manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Sydney. “Corporations have to balance three levels of learning: the individual, the group and the corporate … it’s usually the group that gets neglected.”

Then, consider the importance of engagement. According to Gallup, the damage to productivity from disengaged employees is $300 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Perhaps our leaders need to be reminded the key to real employee engagement doesn’t lie in incentive programs, but in ensuring that labor feels less like work and more like learning.

Originally published in CLO

Have a Coke and a Smile!

I just don’t get it.  Are we  programmed to become upset about anything these days?  I think I watched the same Super Bowl and the same set of Super Bowl commercials as everyone else.

This year Coca-Cola had an ad that showed Americans from different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, singing America the Beautiful.  It reminded me of that throw back commercial from, I think the ‘70s, that Coke produced called I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.

The message of the ‘70s spot was about coming together as one.  It was a message about peace, understanding and about getting past differences, about finding things in common.  The commercial this year, I think, was meant to do the same.  The commercial promoted the idea that America is beautiful, America is great, and one of the reasons it is so great is because it is appreciated from various perspectives, from people all over this country who come from all walks of life, different backgrounds and experiences and even different countries.  It was meant to say, there is no other place on earth like America, a place that is diverse and inclusive and a place where we value differences, our uniqueness…what makes you, you.  Now, one can argue that the United States has a language, the English language.  And, one could argue that it would have been nice to have the whole commercial in English.  However, it was not.  America the Beautiful was sung using a variety of different languages, including English.

Even if you feel like it was not the best use of funds and even if you did not like the commercial because you wanted it all in English, the vicious comments and curse words that followed that commercial on twitter and on the blogs just were uncalled for – we are better than this.  I think it’s time that everyone take a deep breath and have a coke and a smile.  This was not about our laws, about signs on the roads, or regulations regarding instructions coming with a product.  It was a marketing event.  A marketing event that was clearly designed to demonstrate the diversity in this country and how unified we can be even with those differences.  This was a commercial that was clearly generated to increase business and what better way to increase business than to talk to your different audiences in the easiest way that they can understand it.  And even though different languages were used, they were all singing the same thing, America the Beautiful.  At its core it was a unifying and patriotic commercial that marketed uniquely to different folks. A commercial that celebrates our diversity.  How come we get so ugly so quick over such small things?  Maybe it’s because we are drinking too much Coke or Pepsi or coffee.  Maybe it’s all the caffeine.  Maybe we need to get some decaf,  relax, take a deep breath, and treat each other just a little bit better.

Your thoughts?

Is HR at Its Breaking Point?

Three years ago, Toronto-based G Adventures held a funeral for its human resources department.

“We had a company function where I put up crossbones and skull with the title ‘Death of HR,’ ” says Bruce Poon Tip, founder of the adventure-travel company, which employs 1,500 people.

Poon Tip took the drastic action after spending a year looking for a veteran of the field to

become vice president of human resources, which would have been a new position overseeing the five-person department. He received 600 rèsumès and spent months interviewing candidates.

“Every meeting I had, I couldn’t wait for it to end,” he says. “It seemed like HR was the art of oppression. I knew I didn’t want that in my company.”

The debate over HR’s shifting function and format continues, but it is apparent that as executives shift their corporate priorities, HR is following suit. Some companies have chosen to outsource their HR functions; others have shifted responsibilities to front-line managers in efforts to transform HR leaders into business leaders; and some, like G Adventures, have no HR department whatsoever.

Poon Tip moved administrative tasks into the finance department and created two new departments. The so-called “talent agency” focuses on recruiting and talent management. The “culture club,” where everyone has the title “karma chameleon”—named after the hit 1980s song sung by Boy George—organizes everything from fundraisers for the company’s nonprofit foundation to holding celebrations whenever G Adventures wins an award.

Poon Tip’s approach wouldn’t work for many organizations, but a growing number of companies are reimagining their HR structures along with who executes their people strategies. Almost 45 percent of organizations indicated that they will change their HR structure by the end of 2013, according to Towers Watson & Co.’s 2012 HR Service Delivery Survey, up from 28 percent in the previous year’s survey.

Jac Fitz-enz, founder of the consulting firm Human Capital Source, says it’s time for the C-suite to forget tradition. Organizations should pull apart HR departments and place pieces where they fit naturally. “We have patched together a function that isn’t working very well,” Fitz-enz says.

If it’s the sunset of HR as we know it, the new era’s dawn can’t come soon enough for Robert Bolton, a partner in KPMG’s HR Transformation Center of Excellence. The field has “relentlessly pursued best practices and generic models” with a blind eye to business strategies or even industries. “If people are significant for your organization in relation to achieving a competitive advantage, and if you are trying to steal a march on your competition, then that calls for a differentiated HR function, not one that looks like everybody else’s,” Bolton says. This never-ending chase of best practices and copycat models has put HR in a “doom cycle,” he says. “To my mind,” he says, “HR has got to break out of that or die.”

Deerfield, Illinois-based Beam Inc. might be a bellwether of how larger organizations can branch out. The maker of Pinnacle vodka and Maker’s Mark bourbon is midway through reinventing its approach to HR and talent management, a process that began 18 months ago.

In October 2011, Beam became a stand-alone spirits company after Fortune Brands Inc. split up its three enterprises. Fortune Brands sold its golf business, best known for its Titleist golf balls. It then spun off Fortune Brands Home & Security, whose brands include Moen faucets. The remaining business, which includes the Jim Beam whiskey brand, became Beam Inc. It has 3,400 employees.

At the new Beam, executives wanted a culture that encouraged managers to think and act more like entrepreneurs. Based on that concept, they thought about what entrepreneurs do.

“If I’m an entrepreneur running a small business, the first thing I don’t do is go out and hire an HR person,” says Steve Molony, Beam’s director of people strategy and solutions. “If I’m starting a small business, I should be making all these decisions. Big companies get bloated with bureaucracies and these big, huge back offices that remove the business leaders from making some of these decisions. We wanted to reverse that trend when we were still lean and nimble enough to do this.”

Beam hopes to nurture what Molony calls “holistic managers,” who take on deeper HR responsibilities. “That means they don’t just have their job of operational and financial management of whatever part of the business they’re in,” Molony says. “But their responsibilities are to attract, develop, retain and compensate the people on their team, which are traditional HR roles that would have been done by centralized HR teams.”

Take plant managers. In the past, they would tell HR what role needed to be filled, wait for a list of candidates and then be told the new hire’s start date after making the selection.

In the future, plant managers first will decide whether the job is necessary. If it is, they next would decide whether they have an internal successor or need to look outside. They also would look at market data about salaries, negotiate the pay and onboard the new hire.

The change isn’t happening overnight. It requires training, such as helping managers and other leaders understand what would happen if they paid everyone at the 75th percentile of the market, for example. And they won’t be without help from seasoned HR professionals—just fewer of them.

As part of its transformation, Beam is centralizing its disparate HR departments.

It has adapted the business-partner model first championed in 1997 by Dave Ulrich, a business professor at the University of Michigan. His model rests on three pillars: a shared service center, whose centralized staff handles administrative and transactional tasks; centers of excellence, which offer specialized consultants on topics such as training or labor relations; and business partners who advise business-unit leaders on talent strategy such as succession plans.

Beam didn’t adopt Ulrich’s framework wholesale. Its tailored tactic lets the company have a leaner business-services staff and fewer HR business partners, Molony says. In the traditional framework, those HR practitioners would have handled many of the activities Beam envisions managers taking on.

The goal: Develop a better caliber of business leaders that will help Beam outperform its competition. It’s not an HR cost-cutting exercise, Molony says. “We feel like if we give our business leaders these skills, it will differentiate us in the market,” he says.

The goal of HR leaders becoming business leaders and front-line supervisors taking on more HR-like work remains an aspiration, not a reality, particularly for small to midsize employers. “The HR people are absolutely drowning in many cases in the transactional-type stuff,” says management consultant Susan Heathfield, who covers HR for About.com.

At some companies, talent leaders see the potential for other departments to take over aspects of HR. At digital advertising agency Razorfish, Anthony Onesto, director of technology talent development, has asked his recruiting and marketing teams to get together so they work more closely and think about recruiting as a marketing effort. He acknowledges that recruiting likely will not become part of the marketing department, but he also thinks that much of what an HR department does could be done elsewhere.

“This HR group could be dissolved, and folks could be handed some of the responsibilities, and I think we would be OK,” says Onesto, emphasizing it’s a theory, not a plan. But if it happened? “There would be no need for someone like me,” he says. “I would have to reinvent myself. I’ve done it” before.

Other companies already rely on managers to lead aspects of what an HR department does elsewhere. The Container Store Inc., a Coppell, Texas-based retailer with 58 locations nationwide, holds store managers responsible for career development and employee morale, says Eva Gordon, vice president of stores. The Container Store also is famous for its training—263 hours for full-time employees in their first year.

“We hire fantastic people, we train them really well to understand leadership and communication, so who better to manage careers and guide people and answer their questions than their manager?” Gordon says.

Susan Meisinger isn’t so sure. “You can’t tell me there isn’t somebody who is making sure that no matter how they’re doing their talent recruitment, that it is being done in accordance with law and that they’re reaching a pool of candidates who have a higher likelihood of success,” says Meisinger, a consultant who retired as president and CEO of Society of Human Resource Management in 2008. “You can’t tell me there isn’t going to be some consultation going on when there are performance issues, sort of an adviser somewhere in the corporation to help managers improve performance when there are performance issues.”

At Netflix Inc., recruiting largely is considered the responsibility of the hiring manager. The recruiting team handles transactional aspects, and managers determine the market price for salaries through multiple channels, according to spokesman Jonathan Friedland. He declined to elaborate or comment further.

The video-streaming company raised eyebrows in 2011 when it sought a new HR director. Netflix specified that it wanted someone who “thinks business first, customer second, team and talent third” and did not want “a change agent, an OD practitioner, a SHRM certificate, a people person.”

Some observers saw the job posting as a reflection of the C-suite’s frustration with the HR field, which struggles to shed its image as little more than open-enrollment gurus and rule enforcers.

“HR has been for many years scoring on its own score card,” says Dick Beatty, professor of human resource management at Rutgers University.

A recent study suggests Beatty’s right. “Help people grow” was the No. 1 reason HR leaders cited for entering the profession, according the New Talent Management Network, a group of HR professionals started by Avon Products Inc.’s former vice president of global talent management.

“It’s lovely to talk about ‘business partner’ and ‘seat at the table,’ but the challenge for HR leaders is: Do they understand what’s being served at that table?” says Marc Effron, president of the consulting firm The Talent Strategy Group and founder of the network. “It’s a business meal. It’s not an HR meal.”

This gap may explain why CEOs rank talent as a top priority but don’t mention the HR function.

For example, Irv Rothman, president and CEO of HP Financial Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hewlett-Packard Co., keeps talent management as a standing item on his executive team’s agenda. But he doesn’t see it as something the HR department should lead.

“It’s not an HR process,” Rothman says. “It’s a business process because it’s the business that sees people in action. HR has a role. They have a role in creating the environment and creating the infrastructure. For HR to conduct talent management to me seems a little … I don’t know.”

In his book, Out-Executing the Competition, Rothman recommends that no CEO delegate the cultural implications of a merger to the HR department, which he describes as good at such things as benefits. “If the HR department is delivering that message and achieving that visibility, it’s not the inspirational leadership that people are looking for in the aftermath of a merger when just about everybody is as nervous as cat in a roomful of rocking chairs,” Rothman tells Workforce.

Survey after survey continues to find that HR leaders are viewed as low status and better at transactional tasks than strategic planning. “If we’re doing our job well, people don’t say those things,” Effron says. “It’s very easy for HR to whine that people don’t respect us, but people respect those who deliver results.” The solution? Attract a fresh pool of talent into the field that understands business and wants to maximize profits, Effron says. “In many ways, it’s not: ‘Can we teach those in the field to do it better?’—it’s: ‘Can we get different people in the field who truly understand what it takes to succeed in this area?’ ” he says.

During the recession, many global organizations learned that they could do more with less if they had flatter HR departments, fewer job grades and health plans, and used more self-service tools, says Harry Osle, The Hackett Group’s global HR transformation and advisory practice leader.

The result: Leaner HR departments that add more value for every dollar spent than their peer groups and run by professionals skilled in analytics and consulting. “HR organizations in the future are going to be a lot thinner,” Osle says, “but they’re not going to disappear.”

Meisinger, the former SHRM president, says HR departments historically have become leaner during economic downturns. It’s more efficient to have managers do a better job of managing than wait for people problems to emerge and be pushed over to HR.

But even companies that boast that they have no HR department retain someone with HR expertise to help guide recruitment and talent management, she argues.

Still, technological advances will continue to transform the field. Companies have “dramatically” more self-service tools available now than they did 10 years ago, Meisinger says.

“That’s freeing up HR to focus on what it should be: getting in the right talent and making sure they’re developed appropriately and looking at the strategy of the business—where is the business going and what are the talent needs?” Meisinger says. “There are a lot of folks in HR who grew up in the transactional world who aren’t equipped to operate in the strategic world.”

Originally published in Workforce