HR’s Disclosable Impact on Value Creation

HR professionals, as architects, can diagnose performance in each pathway and offer blueprints for progress


Like many others, we have spent our career seeking to discover how to create value for all organisation stakeholders inside (employee fulfilment and strategic realisation) and outside (customer share, investor confidence, and community reputation) through people and organisation practices. This illusive, but relevant, aspiration has inspired ideas, research, and experiments. We are closer to this holy grail (or pot of gold at the end of the rainbow) today because of progress on three efforts: outcomes, frameworks, and research.

Outcomes that matter

Because of technology, political, demographic, and social contextual changes, about 80 percent of firms’ market value today comes from intangibles (up from 20 percent in the last twenty years)—intangibles representing the ability to adapt to these changes. Further, access to funding, strategic declarations, and digital innovations are less differentiating than the ability to manage people and organisation.

As a result of these contextual changes and competitive demands, HR (broadly defined) is less about HR and more about the outcomes of doing HR work. For example, good people and organisation work is less about the number of days of training, CEO-to-employee pay ratio, time to hire, workforce policies, or other initiatives and more about the impact on customers, investors, and communities. Simply stated, if an organisation does not succeed in the marketplace, it has no workplace.

This focus on outcomes more than activities makes people and organisation investments more relevant, and even material, to investors, boards, and senior executives. The recent US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requirement to disclose human capital in regulatory reports signifies the increasing interest in people and organisation. With little direction about what should be disclosed, about 7,000 US firms reported a host of initiatives and metrics in 2021.

Framework for progress

Because of increased attention on people and organisation issues, a profusion of ideas and actions—many of which do not focus on outcomes—have shallow or non-existent roots in previous work, lack research evidence to support them, and end up as shiny objects and fads. To counter this quick-fix mentality, we have been actively engaged in the last few years in three relevant and large research projects:

  1. HR Competency & Capability Study, concluding the eighth round of data in 2021 with 28,500 respondents (over 120,000 people surveyed over the life of the study).
  2. Organisation Guidance System with over 1,000 companies.
  3. Governance and Guidance for Growth through Human Capability (G3HC, with 7,000 companies).

From this research and our experiences, we propose a simple but integrated framework for the HR field: Human Capability (talent + leadership + organisation + HR department).

  • Human refers to talent (human capital, employee, workforce, people, competence).
  • Capability refers to organization (team, workforce, capability).
  • Leadership bridges the two.
  • HR function refers the HR department, practices, and people that deliver value.

This Human Capability framework clarifies and evolves the HR profession (see figure 1 for evolution of field).

Investors, boards, and business leaders can explore each of the four Human Capability pathways and link them to stakeholder outcomes. HR professionals, as architects, can diagnose performance in each pathway and offer blueprints for progress. 

Innumerable innovations proliferate in each of these four pathways (see figure 2 for 37 initiatives across the four pathways). Having a way to integrate these innovate initiatives allows organisations to progress in ways that build on each other rather than having isolated and often repackaged initiatives. These four pathways are like the four food groups that lead to many diets, the GAAP principles that shape financial decisions, or the big five personality traits that offer numerous personality assessments, etc. 

We are encouraged by this “framing” of HR that may become a foundation for the field. In any business discussion related to people and organisation, these four pathways may be the basis for dialogue and investments.

Research with actionable insights

Most efforts to assess the four pathways and thirty-seven initiatives come from surveys that ask respondents to offer their views on scripted questions. Surveys collect information but have response bias, limited information sourcing, and multi-collinearity findings. For research to lead to actionable insights, we access information with the advance of machine learning, AI, and natural language processing, which takes us beyond traditional surveys.

In partnership with Amazon Web Services AI experts, we were able to use machine learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to score 7,000 organisations on the extent to which they disclosed efforts in each of the four pathways. For 5,700 of these firms, we were able to run predictive analytics about how Human Capability overall as well as in each of the four pathways impacted employee, financial, and social reputation outcomes.

Our findings are remarkable (see figure 3). Human Capability scores explain:

44 percent of employee productivity.

26 percent of cash flow (EBITDA)(also 25 percent of market value over intrinsic value or intangibles [Tobin’s Q]).

36 percent and 48 percent of two social responsibility indicators.

These results are nearly double the industry average for impact of Human Capability on these results as measured by surveys (figure 3). This validates the reliability of our Human Capability framework and the machine learning/AI methodology for explaining results.

Investors, boards, senior business leaders, and HR professionals who seek higher confidence in employee, financial, and citizenship results should oversee and make informed Human Capability investments.

Clearly SEC human capital reports are not perfect sources of data on Human Capability. Companies differ on what they disclose because what they are doing and how transparent they chose to be differs. However, over time, the SEC reporting on Human Capability will likely evolve, and disclosures may eventually more closely match the rigour of financial, strategic, and risk management information. 

Implications for HR Profession, Your Company, and You

We have called our work in this domain Governance and Guidance for Growth through Human Capability (G3HC).It provides a conceptual and empirical foundation to upgrade and evolve the HR profession by making progress on how Human Capability initiatives deliver value to all stakeholders and by informing SEC disclosures.

The work also helps any organisation profile their current (see figure 4) and determine desired Human Capability investments to make intentional choices for improvement as well as what to disclose, drawing on thirty-seven actionable insights from our work.

Most important, this work helps business leaders and HR professionals make conscious Human Capability choices that help them be effective.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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