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Enhancing HR’s credibility as a business function

Observations from this year’s HRPA conference

By Brian Kreissl

I’ve been to a lot of conferences and tradeshows in my time, both as a delegate and an exhibitor. I always come away motivated, refreshed and having learned something from the sessions, delegates and exhibitors.

However, I was particularly impressed with this year’s Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) Annual Conference and Tradeshow in Toronto on Jan. 21-23. The theme of this year’s conference was “The Business of HR.”

Every one of the sessions I attended, including both the keynotes and the smaller breakout sessions, were somehow related to the business side of the HR profession. That applied even to the legal sessions that were offered.

To me this is a good thing because HR still has some way to go in being recognized as a bona fide business discipline among many other business professionals. And I believe some HR practitioners still don’t think of themselves as being businesspeople in the same way accountants or marketers do.

Although I spent a fair bit of time helping out at our booth on the tradeshow floor, I was able to attend several sessions, all of which were thoroughly enjoyable. Working the booth allowed me to have conversations with many of the delegates and get a sense of their interests and perspectives.

We also did a survey this year to try to find out what is top of mind for HR practitioners. I am hoping to be able to share some of that insight in a future post.

Relevant keynote sessions

It feels to me like keynote sessions at conferences frequently have little to do with the actual subject of the conference. Such sessions given by motivational speakers and celebrities often feel like the same speech could easily be given to a conference of HR professionals, plumbers or podiatrists, with perhaps just some minor tweaks to the content.

However, it really felt different this time. While I believe other business professionals would have been interested in what the keynote speakers had to say, it really seemed like the speakers were chosen because their speeches had a lot to do with the business side of HR.

Whether it was Nick Bontis urging us to exercise our minds and expand our ability to learn, Scott Stratten on the link between employer branding, customer service and building a great product, Ginger Grant talking about culture and creativity or Mike Walsh on technology, innovation and the changing nature of business, all of the keynotes I attended would be of interest to a strategic HR professional looking to take the human resources function and her organization to the next level.

While I enjoyed all of them, my favourite keynote was the closing speaker Steve Gilliland on making a difference. Even though Gilliland’s session was classic motivational stuff packed with personal anecdotes, it had a lot of relevance to the business world – particularly being an ethical leader, making a difference to those around you and overcoming adversity.

Above all else, the most important thing I took away from Gilliland’s speech was something his mother told him when he was going through a divorce: “You can either let this make you bitter or better; weaker or stronger.” I believe such advice is helpful to anyone encountering a setback, either personally or professionally.

Secrets of a successful human resources leader

Although the breakout sessions I attended were too numerous to mention, one particularly business-focused session was led by Les Dakens on “4 Secrets of the Successful CHRO” (in the spirit of full disclosure, Carswell is the publisher of two of Dakens’ books, including The Real Deal on People: Straight Talk on How the CHRO Creates Business Value).

Without giving too much away, Dakens’ top four secrets for a chief human resources officer (CHRO) are becoming a great marketer, coach, people expert and performance advisor. He believes marketing skills are necessary to determine and meet the needs of internal clients and promote the HR function.

With respect to coaching, Dakens believes it is important to coach senior executives and rising stars within the organization. It is particularly important to be a straight shooter and truth teller when coaching others. Becoming a people expert is all about understanding HR and being able to measure and quantify results, while being a performance advisor requires one to understand behavioural science and what motivates people and makes them tick.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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