Tom Peters on why HR leaders need to be entrepreneurs

HR executives need to be more entrepreneurial in business and take a more proactive and bolder approach in leading and owning initiatives at the executive level, according to management guru Tom Peters.

“I get furious with HR people – not because I’m mad at them – because the potential is so high,” said Peters.

“They ought to be leaders in the very top management of the organisation, but most of them aren’t. They should have the same standing as the chief financial officer; they rarely do.

“For heaven’s sakes, HR should go for it, push yourself forward and don’t pass up on any opportunities to do this. That’s what I mean by entrepreneurialism.”

Peters said HR executives need to take on “brave, big, bold initiatives” and play a stronger leadership role with these.

“And if they get the basics right, well, maybe the CEOs will start listening to them. So, using sporting terminology again, it’s time for HR to step up to the plate.”

Peters said HR executives tend to play defence instead of offence, potentially because of the strong focus on industrial relations in some industries and the lawsuits that some companies have to respond to.

“HR tends to fix problems instead of leading grand initiatives for improvement and change,” said Peters.

“If I were giving this a talk in the US, and if I was comfortable that somebody wouldn’t fire me for language that shouldn’t be used in 2015, in American slang I would say HR executives need to have balls,” he said.

“Now I don’t know how you translate that in Australia, but they have to have guts, they have to have nerve, they’ve got to take the initiative and they’ve got to play offence, not defence.”

Improving development opportunities
Peters also said the number one job and moral obligation of a leader is to develop the skills of every one of the people they are responsible for to the maximum extent of their and their organisation’s resources.

He cited American Society for Training and Development research, which found that the average worker received 25 hours of training a year, or about half an hour a week.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s a disgrace. I don’t know what the number is today – it’s probably not much better, and I suspect the numbers are pretty similar in terms of what you have on the other side of the Pacific,” he said.

“So my number one point is that it is the boss’s job to develop people’s new skills so that they will be ready to be employed in 2025. This applies to any business, whether it’s a micro business or a large multinational organisation.

“Nobody can stand on their skill base today, so businesses, and small businesses in particular, need to prepare themselves for change.”

Peters said the number one reason organisations should improve development opportunities for their people is because it’s the best way to generate revenue.

“We’re not doing this stuff because we’re soft hearted,” he said.

“I believe it’s the best way to make money and it’s the best way to survive in the face of new competition. So what’s the best reason to train people? Because you want to make more money in the long haul.”

To see the full interview with Peters and article on how HR leaders can help businesses prepare for the megatrends of the future, see the next issue of Inside HR magazine.