Why HR is a brand function.
Most people who have worked for large organisations know that HR is a completely underrated function. Sad to say, but this is true. You could even argue that the HR function is the big underachiever of today’s corporation. I am not saying it is the fault of HR people, but the reality is that the HR function has not managed to achieve the respect it deserves within companies. For some reason, HR is like that shy, friendly girl from your fifth grade class. No-one really disliked her, she was really nice and all, but no one remembered her at the class reunion.
Why does HR get such a bad rap? Why don’t we respect HR more? Is it because we only see HR people when we are recruited, then the next time when they organise the company picnic? Do we even understand what they are doing? Do they understand what they should be doing?
The HR function is immensely important. It is a complete mystery why it gets such a bad rap. HR deals with people, with talent. And usually the teams with the best talent win. HR should be your company's greatest asset for the cultivation of human potential and growth. Think about it. There is really only one way to execute strategy, to reach your market position and your goals. It’s through people. People execute strategy. People make great customer experiences happen. And HR people are in the people business.
A new role for HR
If your people deliver your customer experience first-hand (which is the case at least if you are in the service business), then shouldn’t HR be the natural choice to run your brand function? By “running”, I mean taking on the responsibility of delivering the brand experience. If your success is largely dependent on how well your people deliver an experience, then why should you leave this responsibility (also called brand building) to marketing? Marketing, in the case of services, does not usually have the authority nor the tools to execute the brand promise (deliver the brand experience). Marketing is in the business of creating customers, of crafting and communicating promises. And we all know making promises is not the way to win hearts. Rather, it’s done by keeping promises. And that’s what your people should be doing. By this logic, HR would be the natural choice.
Say you are in the real estate business selling apartments. Now, which factors will mostly affect how people perceive you, i.e. your brand?. Your marketing communication, or the customer experience? I suppose we could all agree on the latter. If you were the CEO of the company, who would you want to be in charge of “customer experience”? (a role that does not really exist, yet) Let’s call it the brand function, as it is essentially the same thing. Your marketing people or your HR department? Today, I would argue, it is always the responsibility of marketing. Yet, marketing often lacks the tools and authority to manage the customer experience, especially when it’s purely a “people job”. HR, on the other hand, could be well equipped to be in charge of delivering the customer experience. This would mean embracing the brand strategy, including the values, identity and the brand promise. The way people would be measured would be tightly linked to “living the brand”.
So, what I am suggesting is to consider moving the core brand responsibility away from marketing and into the HR function (preferably it should sit above both). This would give HR a new role. Not only would HR gain respect, I believe the brand would gain strength as it would be run by people professionals. While marketing could (and should) still have a role in developing the brand (through providing strategic insight, planning and executing brand communications etc.), it is after all people who make it happen. And HR, as we already established, are in the people business. I believe this could do wonders for service brands.