If We Do HR the Way We’ve Always Done It, We Get the Same HR We’ve Always Got

Einstein said, ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them’.  This is never truer than when thinking about HR. Traditional, outdated HR thinking, and action just doesn’t deliver in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world of work.

What would HR look like if it was invented today?

Here are ten ways HR can change for the better in my view:

  1. Be people-centred, not process driven
  2. Start from the position that team members and managers are trusted as adults rather than the ‘parent/child’ attitude that is often expressed
  3. Adopt a ‘prevention rather than cure’ mindset
  4. Never be a substitute for poor management, if managers cannot manage effectively, coach them to improve. People solutions should always rest with the manager, with HR guidance
  5. Less work on compliance, and fear of employment tribunals, and more genuine care for the people in the organisation itself
  6. Reset the focus on culture development, coaching and building psychological safety, the most important trust-building work you’ll ever do
  7. Do away with punitive or draconian internal measures and policies, they serve to frustrate the overwhelming majority who just want to do a good job
  8. Truly, and deeply listen to the people in your organisation without judgment. And if you think you’ve listened enough, go out and do some more!
  9. Be bold, do not accept any form of mediocrity – be the catalyst for wider change in the organisation as a true force for good
  10. Become truly human champions, use every interaction to reinforce humanity and recognition for the unique human beings that contribute to making your organisation what it is

HR can and should be much more than an internal organisation’s police force.  Too often HR work is reduced to bureaucratic rule enforcement.  The world is changing rapidly, and HR needs to change with it, or risk becoming obsolete.

What do you think about the ten suggested HR changes, are these things happening inside your organisation?  Is politics in your organisation getting in the way?  Is the HR department itself getting in the way?

HR, when practiced along the lines I’m suggesting, can be a powerful force for good.  It can be an enabling force to build a culture and environment for people to flourish.  What is good for people, is also good for business.


Kevin Miller
Kevin Miller
My 'Why' is to inspire a movement towards truly people-centred organizations. Organizations which see the person first and the employee second. A Coach, facilitator, and catalyst for positive change, I thrive on the challenge of making the world of work better and more humanized for people in organizations. I love networking and collaborating to share fresh ideas, insights and to learn. I have an in-depth knowledge and practical 'hands-on' experience of leading HR and Organizational Development projects. I am a visionary who rethinks what is possible when it comes to HR, leadership and the future of work, igniting positive change in others. Never forgetting the real reason behind my work, I love spending time with my wife Kelly and my children who are the centre of my world and the reason behind my 'Why'.

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  1. Those who work (or have worked) in the human resources department of a company know very well how important and delicate that position is.
    The greatest responsibility of the HR office is to maintain cohesion, collaboration and common sense in the workplace, to ensure that everyone gets along and is focused on making the company progress together. In a nutshell, it manages the human element in every aspect of the business: it is the conscience of each company.
    Running business and managing people is not the same thing at all. Managing people requires unique skills specific to this activity.

  2. Kevin, HR is one of the most critical functions of a business. It cannot be people-driven. There are laws that must be adhered to. The company must have rules to follow. Background checks and alike should be done. It is not always possible to focus on prevention but curing the problem is a must. Most businesses exist to make a profit. In order to maximize profits, things must be done a certain way. There is no time to coddle employees. You were hired to do a certain job in exchange for X amount of dollars. If you are unhappy you can look for another job. Managers should listen to their people (especially their salespeople) and do whatever is possible under the framework of the company to keep things moving smoothly. As a recruiter, I have dealt with many HR Departments and Managers. The most effective were those that focused on processes.

    • Joel – I hardly ever agree with your perspectives, but I love reading them. They make me think.

  3. Kevin, I really appreciate this perspective. People often assume I’m in HR, and I shudder at the thought because as you so eloquently state, it’s not a healthy space and it’s certainly not a place for people focused on happiness in the workplace! The shifts you recommend would do wonders to drive engagement and a host of other benefits for companies… OH… and the people who work there, too (you know.. those “most valuable assets”. 😉 Love this piece! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Yes, Kevin, say it louder!
    I’ve been the victim of outdated HR systems and seen the toll they take on a bright, new workforce. Devastating. HR professionals should be required to get out of their offices and spend some time with the people who truly make up their organizations. I can think of no faster way to help them develop empathy and an understanding of the human psyche.
    Great article.

  5. Oh I like this Kevin,
    The policing in HR resembles all to much the enforcement of law.. and not everything is as it seems. It needs to break away from trying to make people follow what might not be woking and provide a safe environment that allows them to be a valued contributor to the organization. Support is necessary. The mindset of many these days is that if you go to HR, your a whistle blower…a career murderer in a way. By standing up for what’s right you pay a great price. It’s obviously not working. Finding the value in people and supporting their concerns truly is needed.
    If some time was spent on the actual policies, core values and ethics of an organization…and compared to the actual moral, turnover, productivity, evaluations….? There is a big disconnect… are the leaders really leading? Great thought provoking article Kevin. It gets the mental wheels turning! Thank you! Paula

  6. I am right there with you, Kevin. When I wrote my book in 2015 I thought that I could influence change, and in a small way, I have. The challenge that makes me want to cry uncle is that process, regulations and rigidity have been driven to the core of HR. It is what is expected from senior leadership and from employees via government or legal intervention. I have been successful in helping to change the role of HR to one like you describe, but it has been a long journey and the process and regulations don’t go away. The change is successful, I found, when HR stops being a decision maker, and becomes a facilitator of decisions, thus giving ownership back to leaders where it should be. That is a difficult change for HR because their power has evolved from regulation and fear of litigation.

    I am encouraged today as I watch HR responses to COVID. Regulations, process and rigidity without immediate purpose can’t survive in today’s environment. Leaders seem to be questioning the why, which is good. A former CEO used to say, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste; use the time to make change.”