What’s HR to do with marketing?

OK, I know I rattle on a lot about the various vested interests within organisations that prevent real cohesion or an integrated approach, but that’s because I keep bumping into ivory tower-builders and political dead-heads who undermine organisations’ success.

For instance, those of you who know me will know that I have always promoted the idea of HR as a marketing function.  After all, the definition of marketing is to leverage an organisation’s resources in order to deliver something that people want or need in the most efficient way and the biggest resource any organisation has are its people. So, as long as HR is about managing the employee resource it has to be a marketing function.

The problem is that HR people so rarely see it this way. There’s something so separatist about the way that HR is set up in most organisations that I come across, you would think that their role had nothing at all to do with the business.

I came across a national retail organisation the other day that was having great difficulty recruiting good store managers. This same organisation however, had recruited a manager in waiting and put her “on ice” as a deputy manager at one of its stores . This manager made an real impact and was very highly thought of so when the incumbent manager went on extended leave she stepped into the manager’s role and immediately produced better figures and team spirit.

The regular manager walked back into her job after six months or so and the stand-in was stepped down again. Odd enough in itself, but for some months the organisation continued to pay her a manager’s salary, so she lived with it. Then came the whammy, because the organisation’s HR people discovered some months down the line that they had been paying her as a manager when she had been acting as a deputy and demanded the incremental salary back from her. They were at pains to point out to me that they were legally entitled to do so, but, of course, that’s hardly the point.  It takes a very special level of stupidity for any organisation to do this route let alone one that was having problems finding good people.

The HR position was that “rules are rules” and the woman wasn’t entitled to a manager’s salary if she wasn’t doing a manager’s job. It quite escaped them that it was their fault that she wasn’t doing the job and as for the small matter of pissing-off a valuable employee, they didn’t see it as their problem. Their job was to enforce the rules, it was the job of operations to field that one! Frankly, I hope they go broke (and it seems they might), but even then I’m sure they won’t get it.

A couple of weeks back I was chatting with the global HR Director of one of our most respected marketing services groups who was explaining to me why the marcoms sector had a really primitive approach to HR (Tell me about it!) However, I’m not sure they are as alone in this as he seems to think. There are so many things wrong with the HR set-up in most organisations that its hard to know where to start, but there are two critical issues:

A) Although they are dealing with people most HR departments appear to be hide-bound by bureaucracy – and we all know where that leads.

B) So few HR people understand how crucial their role is to the delivery of the brand promise and certainly don’t visualise themselves as marketers.

Brands are communities and that means they are the sum of the attitudes, standards and opinions of their members. I work with organisations to drive business growth by developing their brands, not, by means of the papering-over-the-cracks-and-making-empty-promises approach that appears to be the default position adopted by most organisations, but by actually delivering a promise that people respond to. Delivery has a lot to do with having the right employees, so recruitment (under general HR) plays a critical role. My agency friend waxed lyrical about the deficiencies of recruitment consultants and their numbers-driven approach and plans to solve this one by removing outsourced recruitment entirely and replacing it with an in-house department that serves the organisation’s global needs. More power to his elbow I say!

Success is also about getting all of your people behind the brand and pushing in the same direction, which is what internal marketing is all about.  This is also very much a job for HR under the general management of their marketing colleagues yet I frequently have to argue with clients for the inclusion of HR people in the brand discovery workshops I run, which to me is a key indicator of old-fashioned, unenlightened, inefficient, or just plain shoddy management.

Of course, HR people are often the authors of their own destiny in this respect.  While it all seems pretty logical to me, I often feel myself slipping into Columbus’s shoes as he received the reaction to his suggestion that the world wasn’t flat! Then again, identifying the chicken and the egg in this cycle is something of a challenge.  Maybe  HR people have just been trained into this viewpoint by generations of sadly-lacking general management.

In the final analysis though, the argument is redundant, because as soon as you start identifying the things that drive success, you inevitably home in on the brand and when you dig into this you can’t help but realise how critical the HR function is to your brand development.  It all comes back to the need for an organised approach like my Brand Discovery programme, which I know isn’t the only programme in this area, but you’ll excuse me if I stick to the view that its the best – unless you know different that is?

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