HR Fear Factor – Are You Ready To Be A “Performance Advisor”?

Posted By on Oct 31, 2012

fear-factor-logoYesterday morning the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) released its latest research findings entitled, “The Future of HR – The Transition to Performance Advisor”. The report is based upon qualitative and quantitative data gathered through surveys and interviews with hundreds of the most preeminent HR leaders in the world. The research is generally a good read and the quotations from many reputable CHROs will corroborate each of i4cp’s working conclusions (be it that HR professionals must ask the right questions to support business results or that numbers are just the beginning in the value of HR metrics).

HR As Performance Advisor

Although the overarching concept of strategically advising the business can be a tired and dated argument, i4cp approached this issue with a bit of nuance, stating that:

“The HR professional must be able to pair [their] business and finance savvy with a burning curiosity to uncover and address the obstacles threatening or impeding organizational performance.”

I like that this foundational premise assumes you already have business and finance acumen. More specifically addressing the “performance advisor” aspect, the authors add:

“[HR professionals] need the assurance and courage to probe sensitive issues, and the compassion and insight to constructively advise and support the senior executives, board members and other stakeholders who are charged with crafting and executing competitive business strategies.”

Although many may perceive that HR lacks courage, I think instead that the issue is one of conviction.

Courage Versus Conviction

Given that I spend nearly all of my waking hours (and at times what seems like sleeping ones) working with HR and business leaders, I’ve found that intestinal fortitude is not a characteristic lacking among our industry professionals. To the contrary, HR is often the Secret Service of the corporate world, instinctively throwing its body in front of those who dare to try and take down propriety and employee productivity. As many of you know, it is often a relatively thankless profession mired by age-old archetypes and the same shitty jokes year after year. But yet somehow, millions of these courageous corporate servants manage to get up every morning to fight the good fight with nary a thank you or acknowledgement.

Conviction, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. To attain i4cp’s “performance advisor” future, you have to trust that you’re not only working with the right information, but also that the conclusions drawn from this data actually matter to the business. Courage only comes into play when you’re standing in front of the board (fielding what should be a softball question) and your spine starts to tingle at the potential gross inaccuracy or perceived irrelevance of what you’re about to convey.

To Get Ahead, Get Out Of HR

What should be more frightening to today’s up-and-coming HR pro is the conclusion that to get ahead in HR you actually need to get out of HR. A few relevant quotes from the i4cp study include:

  • The best HR people I know either started somewhere else or stepped outside of HR for a few years and got experience their HR structures wouldn’t otherwise allow them to do.” [CHRO of an education organization]
  • When someone comes to me – either from school or from here in HR – and says, ‘one day I’d like to have your job, what do I need to do?’ I say, ‘leave HR.’ If you’re working in HR, that’s great, and I’m glad you have a passion for it. But without other experience, your route will be somewhat limited and narrow. I advise them to go and get some experience in operations, IT, or something else.” [CHRO at Premera Blue Cross]
  • My preference is to find the right talent that has the capabilities and grow it… There are other variables that affect success: culture fit, for instance, things that are not technical skills. You can find that raw talent and grow it. It may not come into HR, but other parts of the organization.” [SVP and Chief Administrative Officer for Jack in the Box]

Closing Thoughts

This notion of a performance advisor is something that all HR leaders should study and begin to test and deploy. As summarized by i4cp, HR’s future skill set will be a material extension to the work that many of you are doing today:

The HR business partner of the future is as likely – perhaps more so – to come from an operational background as one that centered on HR education and experience. Business know-how that extends beyond typical acumen will be a hallmark of this HR professional. Understanding of metrics and analytics, an ability to influence, a sense of curiosity, a capacity for strategic thinking, and the confidence to assertively apply his or her skills are just a few of the competencies that will distinguish the HR business partner as a true performance advisor. Further, a rare-but-valuable “must” will be a mindset that combines abilities to identify business issues and craft creative responses to them with the firm compassion necessary to afford business leaders a trusted, inner-circle counselor.

With the proper tools, planning and demonstrable execution, you can achieve this future. Fear has no place in the HR that I know – it never has.


  1. Becoming a performance advisor is a daunting task, no doubt, but comes inherently to a department that has a finger on the pulse of a company’s talents, skills, and goals. It’s intriguing to hear that the best HR people are those that have outside experience, preferably in operations. At what career stage would you suggest an HR hopeful look into something else?

    Post a Reply
    • It’s a good question Jenny. To the extent that an operational rotation is available (as it is in many larger organizations) it would be worthwhile to explore relatively early in your career. I’ve also seen some HR leaders leave HR to pursue a Masters in another domain and then circle back a bit later through another avenue. I hope that’s helpful!

      Post a Reply
      • Thanks for the reply, Mark! It certainly makes sense to explore early on in a career. Getting a Master’s is a great way to diversify and deepen those skills as well, although some would balk at the career “stall.”

        Post a Reply
        • Hopefully the “stall” wouldn’t happen if you can find an organization that would fund the continued education! Of course, those may be few and far between these days. Thanks again Jenny.

          Post a Reply
  2. Great article, and its something I’d like to see managers and leaders coached in (to see the signs in themselves and their team members), rather than just leaving it to the HR professionals to recognize.

    Post a Reply


  1. MAPping Company Success - [...] Stelzner, from Inflexion Advisors, presents HR Fear Factor – Are You Ready To Be A ‘Performance Advisor’? – “Our …
  2. Compensation Insider - Share the knowledge - December 2012 | Compensation Insider - [...] as complement, here is an analysis of how leading CHROs see the future of HR as a “performance advisor”. …

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>