Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Strategic HR: the Time is Now

Just twenty years ago, in the early 90s, CIO was considered a third-tier title at best. Most CIOs were mired in arcane technology with a simple mandate: just keep things running and don’t screw up finance - IT was considered by most to be a necessary evil to help the numbers team. Never at that time would a CIO direct or develop organizational strategy.

But, all of that changed in the decade ahead. With the rise of dot coms came myriad applications that influenced every part of the organization from budget to procurement, from project supervision to data analysis. Soon, the CIO was directing from below and so the organizational triumvirate shifted to include a Chief Information Officer at the top.

As of 2008 over one third of organizations have the CIO reporting directly to the CEO with as many as 46% in some sectors such as business services. With the rise of knowledge work, information is at a premium. Data mining and market analysis drive the strategy and tactics of worldwide organizations. As global, decentralized, multi-cultural companies compete, IT systems are differentiators in the enterprise’s arsenal. Today the CIO is at the top and here for the foreseeable future.

Just so, HR was once thought of as the hiring, orientation, and birthday party crew. But, not anymore, not in today’s interconnected, globally competitive world. Smart organizations are realizing that strategic talent recruitment and human capital development are the new differentiators. Bringing HR to the senior strategy team is gaining currency. The wisdom to embrace strategic HR demonstrates not just that people are the central resource for an organization, but that their calculated, mission-driven development is at the center of competitive excellence.

HR Certification is the recognized seal of eminence, demonstrating not just individual prowess for the holders of certificates, but organizational dominance for those companies that embrace certification by virtue of what it denotes:

  • Currency in the rapidly changing business environment because of the recertification requirement
  • Due diligence in the complex, multi-national marketplace where a misstep can be lethal to an organization as has been shown
  • Prowess and excellence in strategic human capital development resulting in professional superiority
  • Official recognition by the preeminent North American organization, HR Certification Institute (full disclosure: I have worked for the HRCI as a consultant)

In 2005 Fast Company published Keith H. Hammonds' article, Why We Hate HR, which instantly became a cult classic even inside HR circles. He clearly articulated what we all hope for, "'strategic partners' with a 'seat at the table' where the business decisions that matter are made," placing it side-by-side with the sad truth, "...most human-resources professionals aren't nearly there. They have no seat, and the table is locked inside a conference room to which they have no key."

But, today the sands are shifting as the Knowledge Economy settles in to stay and talent reigns supreme. HR is now looked upon as more than a strategic implement. It is becoming a source of excellence in companies that understand people as the resource that distinguishes value in the marketplace.

Further, we are seeing for the first time the rise of HR VPs to true positions of power. When former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy received the prestigious Corporate Innovator Luminary Award by The Committee of 200 in Washington, D.C., in 2006 she won praise for her turnaround effort rescuing Xerox and for her place among 10 female CEOs in the Fortune 500. Not incidentally Anne was a former Xerox VP of HR. In 2008, U.S. News & World Report selected her as one of America's Best Leaders.

Will HR ascend to the executive leadership stratosphere? If insight, creativity, innovation, talent - i.e., people - are the primary asset in today's world, how could it be otherwise?


Seth KahanSeth Kahan ( is a Change Leadership specialist. He has consulted with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps, Marriott, Prudential, American Society of Association Executives, Project Management Institute, and NASA. His Web site is


Add New Comment


  • Carolyn Taylor

    I agree with you Seth and wrote a blog on a similar topic. Culture, brand and IT are all powerful drivers of culture. Everyone is talking about culture these days, but few really know how to manage it. 50 years ago no-one understood brand management, but marketing managers have definitely earned a seat at the table now. HR leaders have the opportunity to show organizations how to invest in their culture, as marketing leaders do with brand and CIOs with technology. Culture is do-able, and HR are the ones who need to show how it can be done.
    Carolyn Taylor

  • Peter Lanc

    Its not about "HR" its about the calibre of folks who go into the profession. We need clear thinking business strategists who understand that in order to be the cheer leader we have to first understand business. Only through that will we ever be their cheerleader and support continued employment
    Peter Lanc - HRMexplorer