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The Secret to Jack Welch’s Success: HR

When Jack Welch started his tenure as CEO of GE, he didn’t think much of HR, calling it the the “picnic and benefits crowd”. Near the end of his career, Welch had changed his tune, spending the vast majority of his time on HR.

“HR is the driving force behind what makes a winning team. We make the argument that the team that fields the best players wins. HR is involved in making sure we field the best players. That’s their job. And their job is to sit in every meeting, be involved in every part of the business equation. They are not the health and happiness, picnics, benefits team. They’re the development team, developing today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. If you have an organization where HR is relegated to forms and benefits, you got the wrong game going.”

Do you see the problem? Jack Welch’s version of HR is likely not the typical version. How much of your HR function is actually focused on strategy?

So what changed Jack’s view? It was one person, his Head of HR, who deployed his team into the GE organization to sit in every possible meeting and make smart evaluations on talent and bench strength.

As a retained search recruiter, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really amazing HR organizations. The best HR people are human strategists. They may not be the friendliest, life of the party, keepers of the employee manual or the culture police, but they have high emotional IQ and they work their tails off to understand the needs of the company.

I believe that HR strategy will become even more important over the next 100 years than it is today, and the companies that figure it out will create dynasties. I can hear what you are saying, but what about artificial intelligence and robots and algorithms? I’m taking for granted that artificial intelligence will be commonplace. When I see pictures of tribesmen on the Serengeti using smartphones, I know that technological democratization is here.

In a world where everyone has access to the same technology, the difference won’t be business strategy, but effective human execution. Creativity, persuasion, discernment and intuition are all uniquely human attributes. These differentiators will separate winners from losers.

What can you do to increase the value that HR brings to the table?

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