Issue Briefs

by Brad Power, Harvard Business Review

You might think that the corporate human resources function doesn’t have much of a role in improving business processes, such as product development, operations, customer service, or distribution. But I’ve found that it does. HR can propel or inhibit process improvement because it has an outsized influence on people: how they are recruited, rewarded, and developed. In organizations like IBM, Lowe’s, and Harvard Vanguard where HR has accelerated change, it has emerged from its compliance and administrative focus to make bold changes in spite of regulations, bureaucratic entanglements, and other barriers.

As I explained in my last post, IBM‘s corporate HR function was instrumental in the company’s strategy of standardizing and integrating processes globally. It developed “Global Enablement Teams” that brought marketing experts from mature IBM country units to help IBM businesses in developing countries. In a post about Lowes, the $49 billion home improvement retailer, I described how Cedric Coco, senior vice president of learning and organizational effectiveness, quickly united his group with the firm’s internal performance improvement team when he joined in 2008. And I also described how HR at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, a large Boston-area physician group, has changed how they recruit, orient, reward, and develop people to fit with their “care improvement” activities.

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