Tom Haak interviewed by the Slovenian Times
What defines a good HR professional?
What defines a good HR professional? Are those characteristics/competencies changing over time?
It is not one-size-fits all. Let’s not try to capture all the characteristics of the ideal HR professional in one person. The composition of the team, with a good level of diversity, is important. There are some characteristics though, I would expect in all HR professionals. My top six:
- A business orientation, and loving the business you are working in.
- Being independent and not too submissive.
- The ability to design and implement high impact HR interventions.
- A real people focus, not too much oriented towards management.
- Able to deal with ambiguity.
- Curious and keen to learn a lot.
What are the main HR trends for 2019?
The HR Trend Institute follows, detects and encourages trends. Every year you also publish predictions of HR trends. Which HR trends did you choose for 2019?
You can find the extensive answer in my blog post “10 inspiring trends for 2019”. There is one I would like to highlight. Number one is “Personalisation”. Historically HR has focused very much on standardisation and “One-Size-Fits-All”. Making the shift to an approach where the individual needs, wishes and capabilities of candidates and employees are the starting point is difficult, but very important. HR can learn a lot from marketing here. All areas of HR can benefit from personalisation.
What will be the main messages of your keynote in Bled?
You are one of the keynote speakers at 29th EAPM Congress, giving lecture titled “Future is now”. Which will be the main takeaways for the audience? What are key messages you would like to stress in Bled?
The current trends, especially the fast technological developments, create a lot of opportunities for HR to increase its impact. Traditionally HR is rather slow and conservative. If you focus too much on the future, you often loose a lot of speed. I often see projects called “The Workforce of the Future”, but maybe it is better to first focus on the workforce of today!
I generally observe the following. The HR interventions are not clearly related to the most burning business issues. HR wants to do too much and is not focused enough. HR does not use the power of people analytics and the implementation skills of HR can be a lot stronger. In Bled I will outline how to improve these areas, and how the impact of HR can be increased a lot, also by using current trends and innovative technology.
What are the most urgent HR issues in Europe?
Which questions should be “on the leader table” every day? What are the most urgent HR issues in Europe?
The starting point should not be the HR issues, but the urgent business issues that HR can help to address. Important themes for many organisations are related to questions like:
How can we:
- Continue to grow in a sustainable way?
- Accelerate our digital transformation?
- Increase our capacity and productivity?
- Stimulate innovation throughout the organisation?
HR should be very skilled in asking the right questions and determine in what way HR can help to address the key issues, and focus on high-impact interventions, with the least effort. An example: increasing capacity, necessary for growth, is often too quickly solved with recruiting more people. There are many ways outside recruitment that can help to increase capacity. Use the potential of people better. Organise in a different way (less managers, more self-managed teams). Focus on connecting learning solutions a lot better to the individual employees and connect learning better to the actual work.
One generalisation: the potential of many people is under-utilised and a lot more people could be thrilled by the work they do. Using the potential and strengthening and developing the skills of the people that are kind of “future proof” is a European and in fact a global people priority.
What is your advice to employees and managers?
In order to run company successfully, but also responsibly, to have more impact with less effort, what advice would you give to managers? In what would you advise to the employees?
Managers: show a real interest in your people and help them to fulfil their potential.
Employees: do not make yourself too dependent on your managers. Ask: how can I improve myself, and how can I contribute to the growth of the organisation.
Which companies are leading in HR?
Which organisations and companies are in your opinion leader in advanced HR practices? Could you give some concrete examples of inspiring business cases?
Luckily there are many examples. Of course, there are the usual suspects, like Google, Netflix and Booking.com. As these organisations are becoming bigger, they are sometimes struggling to keep their people focus. High ethical standards are very difficult to sustain. It is also not easy to avoid complex processes and rigid structures.
When I worked at Arcadis, we launched a big program for high potentials in the world. It was called Global Shapers, and it is still running. They key question was not: what should the high potentials learn, but: what can we learn from the high potentials? The power of the new generations globally was used to tackle important strategic issues. Tilting the question can help in many areas, also for example in onboarding. Not: what do the new employees need to learn, but what can we learn from the new employees? Some big companies are doing very cool things, like Deutsche Telekom and ING.
Why do you love HR?
The slogan of EAPM congress is “#loveHR. So, why do you love it?
I love HR for several reasons. The domain fits very well with my interests. I am an experimental psychologist, interested in people, technology, methodology and how scientific insights can be used in the workplace. For me, the HR domain gets more interesting every day. I love HR as well, as we (HR) can really make a difference in organisations, and as we can contribute a lot to the digital transformations organisations are going through.
What was the most important lesson in your life?
I would like to mention three.
One: be persistent and never give up.
Two: go with the flow.
Three: think and act independent.
And overall: make sure you have a lot of fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously.
What is your in inspiration?
What are you inspired by? Which is your favourite book, your role model and your motto if life?
Inspiration I got a lot from Daniel Kahneman and Peter Senge. Kahneman is one of the greatest psychologists ever, and I recommend you read “Thinking fast and slow”. Peter Senge wrote, in 1990, “The fifth discipline”, about how to apply systems thinking in organisational life. Great insights, useful for everybody.