At a session of the human capital leadership forum in Minneapolis on October 11, 2012, Michael Keane of Express, Inc. addressed an audience on the subject of supporting transformations. Because of widespread innovations and infrastructure changes across the business spectrum, he said, there was currently a climate that wasn’t so much supportive of change as demanding of it. Keane began by describing himself as a “natural cynic” who was suspicious of the word “transformation,” saying that he thinks the word is employed gratuitously by people who want to make what they are doing sound far bigger and more important than it actually is. “That being said, there are some situations where the realities of what your business faces are really dramatic and they do require dramatic change. I think what I’ve learned is that understanding the difference between rhetoric and reality is really important,” said Keane.
Keane continued to describe what he believed the role of senior human resources professionals in facilitating transformation. There were only two reasons, he said, for a firm to own a human resources function moving forward. The first, he said, was to employ a team of people who were singularly devoted to dealing with the current wave of innovations and technological advances, whatever they may be. With a team of such professionals, the business aspect is left to one group, and the incorporation of whatever technological wave comes next is left to another. The other reason he said firms should maintain a human resources function was that these departments are invaluable at fostering and nurturing the ethos and culture of the firm. Especially in an era when many businesses are becoming extremely concerned with expanding their businesses globally, a uniform and strongly nurtured corporate culture is essential for success.
“Obviously, knowing the business is a core requirement. Everybody here wouldn’t be in the roles that they’re in unless they knew the business. The real question is, how much and what do you have to know? I think sometimes when HR people hear “I have to be relevant because I know the business”, it sends us off into all kinds of different places,” continued Keane. Sometimes, he said, this kind of thinking can lead to a company diving too deep too quickly, without really stopping to think about the ramifications of the widespread change they enact. Just as important, he said, was optimizing organizational effectiveness by supporting transparent levels of communication between human resources and the rest of the company, as well as between other divisions of the company and each other.