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Book review: Unleashing Capacity

The future of HR rests with us all, according to Rita Trehan’s latest book, so what should we do with this opportunity? Paul Carter offers his analysis.

21st Jan 2020
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A target with several arrows in the bullseye stands on the Bonneville Salt Flats
iStock/RichVintage

Title: Unleashing Capacity (2nd edition)
Author: Rita Trehan
ISBN: 978-1-912555-50-5
Reviewer's rating: 3.5/5

book cover

I am reading Unleashing Capacity while searching for another job to secure promotion and a higher salary. I must be ready for a senior HR role because I got angry when I read “HR suffers from a bad rap”, only calming down when I saw “the mistake many CEOs make is in dismissing HR’s potential”. The author, Rita Trehan, a global business-transformation expert, has tapped into that historical image problem for HR to get the profession pumped and fluent in the c-suite lingo. In the hands of skilled and personable HR professionals, this book can increase HR’s credibility and deliver meaningful change. There is practical advice on tackling a poorly functioning talent acquisition model, producing and translating people-related data, and developing a united leadership brand.

In the hands of egocentric, smart-talking HR career-climbers, however, it allows them to spout growth curves, change generators and capacity-centric lens to get everyone excited, only to fail to deliver anything meaningful and further damage our reputation.

If the greatest trick HR ever pulled was convincing organisations it did not exist, now is the time to stand up and get the recognition we deserve. While Trehan occasionally uses attention-grabbing language to build excitement, such as ‘the capacity framework – the ultimate tool for positive transformation’, ‘killer apps’, ‘captain of the ship’ and ‘true potential’, she cares about her profession and wants to build its strategic expertise and ability to substantiate its self-promotion.

What is strategic HR?

Strategic HR is defined as “not waiting until somebody asks you to think about changing the organisational structure or implementing something new”. However, “to be the one to bring ideas to the table, to see the gaps, voids and opportunities”, you need to be good at your job, be connected to different business functions and people have to believe in you. So, can this book empower and inspire HR professionals to evolve from task-oriented to company-focused to drive change across organisations?

I will defer to the experts. The back-cover praise has HR guru, Dave Ulrich, claiming that the author’s four phase capacity model - vision, strategy, solutions and leadership brand - can enable HR professionals to have a more positive impact. I was impressed by the vision, strategy and leadership, but I could not relate to the solutions component. I considered re-reading it as the other components made me think about work rather than the book. I trusted my gut instinct, however, and followed the book’s ethos of developing the expertise to solve HR and business problems.

Living up to the textbook testimonials

The difficulty with textbook tactics and case studies is applying what looks good on a page to your organisation. If you sound like you’re citing an HR textbook, HR business partners will say you need to understand the business to get involved in the leadership conversation. On the flip side, no academic or trade reading limits your ability to give sound advice, see the bigger picture and grasp opportunities for growth.

My key takeaways:

  • Vision is creative but rooted in fact, bolstered by hard data that supports all decisions that must be made and all actions that must be taken to realise it.
  • Your [HR] vision will need to be the same as your organisation’s, or exceed it.
  • HR must always strive to understand and deliver on the strategic initiatives of its company.
  • When the strategy of the organisation outstrips that of the HR function, the HR team will find itself relegated to a transactional role.
  • The ultimate questions to ask before making any decision: is this true to who we are? Does it reflect well or poorly on our brand?
  • Individual egos must give way to a centralised, shared demand for success: the organisational ego.

Be the future of HR

I liked the underlying theme of knowing the why, who, how, what and the results of your actions as this helps you become strategic, demonstrate your worth and stand your ground when challenged. This optimism for ambitious HR professionals is couched in reality, however: “interestingly, and not surprisingly, you do not, in fact, see CEOs coming from HR backgrounds. They tend to come from sales and finance, areas that trend toward a broader, organisation-wide view of success, accustomed to higher public accountability for all stakeholders”.

I am proud to work in HR and champion the author’s call for HR to step out of the shadows and into the public arena to engage with stakeholders and show our worth. Chapter 7 ‘HR’s image problem’ is a great end to the book with the closing thought inspirational: “the power is yours, the time is now, and you are the right person”.

The book focuses on the relationship between CEOs and HR and keeping our profession in the corporate race for power and results. While HR may have a troubled history and an uncertain future, however, our backs are not against the wall. We do not have to fight for our existence because we have shown business leaders what we can achieve. Let’s keep up the good work.

Instead of going for interviews, I may reinvent myself as an HR image consultant.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is entirely my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of any organisations I am affiliated with.

For more information about our book reviews, visit our books for review page.

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