I have been in the field of Human Resources since 1975 in government, retail, banking, financial services, healthcare and have consulted externally with myriad companies, large and small. I have worked in and led every facet of the profession. I believe that the discipline of HR has enormous potential, and untold ways to add value to an organization.
I am saddened by what I read these days about my profession. It gained momentum back in 2005 when Fast Company ran an article, “Why We Hate HR.” We all read the article; some of us said “yep, I get that” and many said, “How dare they.” But little happened and HR, with notable exceptions, continues to wear hats and do work that doesn’t add value to the organization.
In 1997, Harvard professor Michael Beer proposed a transformation to a new strategic role for HR. His vision of the future economy was prophetic, and his strategy of shifting the focus away from administrative tasks to strategic alignment was spot on. I read the article in 2008, thinking it was a current piece and was surprised to see that it was from 1997 because it seemed that nothing had changed.
In 1998, David Ulrich – one of the most prominent theorists in HR – asked the question in Harvard Business Review, “Should we do away with HR”, and proposed a radical change to becoming a leader of strategy execution, work efficiency, employee advocacy and continuous transformation.
Years later, in 2012, Jacques Fitz-Enz – one of the original advocates of HR metrics – proposed “disassembling HR” in HR Executive magazine. His point – HR is not stepping up, the work is highly disparate requiring myriad different skills, and the department should be taken apart and tasks placed where the skills already reside.
A professor of Human Resources, wrote two articles for CFO.com, “Don’t Trust HR” in 2009 and “Finance Should Run HR” again in 2013. Obviously neither was complimentary of the work of this discipline.
Social media is ripe with discussion about the role of, value of and future for HR. Two notable discussion threads on LinkedIn include “Why do you think people hate HR”, and “I’m an HR hater today”. Both discussions have been going on for months. After reading these, I googled the two words “hate” and “HR” and got 57 million hits.
I think you get my point – this is a challenging time for my profession. But truly and intuitively, given the fact that all of the work done in an organization is done by the people; shouldn’t there be a part of the organization that is responsible for all things people? I have done my share of bashing my profession, I will admit. There are tremendous areas for improvement, but there is tremendous opportunity.
I talk with HR professionals regularly, and encourage them to develop their skills and competence in the “human resources development” side of the profession because it is there that the tools and resources to help the organization exist. Developing leadership skill, influencing and leading organizational change, identifying opportunities for improved performance and productivity are all value-add back to the organization, and the value is in hard dollars.
What I hear from many HR professionals is that they are limited in what they can do by the perception of what they should do. They know they need to be actively involved in strategy and change, but are too busy or worse – the organization doesn’t see the role that they can play. This is intensely frustrating, particularly for individuals who do have the skills to add value, although admittedly, not all HR professionals do.
Let’s face it; human resources are one of the largest costs for most any organization. Let’s run some numbers quickly based on a couple hypotheticals. You have 500 employees at an average salary of $40,000, for a total personnel expense of $20 million. Your employees are working at 80% of their capacity, wasting therefore 20% of your personnel cost, or $4 million. Does that get your attention? And how many times have you approved a new position because you were told that it was needed. Perhaps it was….
This isn’t a time for “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Heavy hands will diminish productivity, not improve it. What will help? Leaders who know how to get the best from their people and oversight on performance and productivity – not for punishment but for examination.
You will never recoup the lost productivity and performance through compliance. You stand a very good chance of recouping it through the commitment of your employees. This is where human resources should step up.
It is my contention that performance and productivity is a joint responsibility of the human resources team and organizational leaders. Leaders touch the employees, and need the skills and competence to do it well. Leaders also need knowledge and processes that are end-user friendly, along with advocates to help clarify their leadership roles. But the infrastructure, measurement, learning programs and follow- up can and should be provided by the human resources team.
So here is my question to all of the operational, finance and executive leaders out there. If you aren’t getting this from your human resources team, why not? If you cannot point to the value add of the human resources work, why not? If you are allowing that 20% diffusion of productivity and performance, why? If you don’t know what the diffusion percent is, why not?
Do we need a radical change for human resources? Absolutely. Is it something HR can do alone. Absolutely not.
Let me propose an idea. Suppose executive leadership were to up the ante for HR – ask for and expect the maximum out of their people, and look to HR to lead that charge? Could your HR team produce? Are you sure? Have you asked?
It might be an interesting exercise to ask a few key questions to your HR team and begin a dialogue. You may learn quite a bit about the performance and productivity of your organization. Here are a few starter questions:
- How are our people performing?
- What information are you using to determine that?
- How credible is the information you are using?
- Is there a way to obtain better data?
- What does our leadership team believe is their role?
- How do you know?
- In your opinion, are our leaders equipped to lead effectively?
- What are we doing to develop our leaders?
- What are we investing in our people?
- Are we getting a good return on that investment?
- How do you know?
- How are you and the Finance team working together to look at our performance and productivity?
- What are our biggest human resources risks? How are you handling those risks?
- What can I do to help?
Just because you don’t get the answers you would like immediately doesn’t necessarily mean HR doesn’t “get it.” Create a dialogue and work through the questions together; it could lead to a great partnership!
I have read many articles focused on “what the CEO expects from HR”. I would restate that to say “what the CEO deserves from HR.” If you don’t ask for value-add, chances are you won’t get it.
I don’t think HR should be disassembled; I believe there is a huge role and opportunity to maximize the people power of every organization. But HR cannot do it alone.
Hammonds, K. H. (2005). Why We Hate HR. Fast Company. Aug 2005; ABI/INFORM Global, p. 40
Beer, M. (1997). The transformation of the human resources function: Resolving the tension between a traditional administrative and a new strategic role. Human Resource Management. Spring 1997, Vol. 36, No. 1, Pp. 49-56.4
Ulrich, D. (1998). A new mandate for human resources. Harvard Business Review. Jan-Feb 1998. Pp 124-134.
Fitz-enz, J. (2012). Disassembling HR. HR Executive Online. Retrieved 1/30/2013 from http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/view/stury.jhtml?id=533350819.
CFO.com. McCann, D. (2013). Finance should run HR. Retrieved from http://www3.cfo.com/blogs/human-capital-careers/human-capital–careers-blog/2013/03/Finance-Should-Run-HR?utm_source=Midmarket+Users&utm_campaign=cdf8df7ae9-Daily_News_Template11_12_2012&utm_medium=email on 3/14/2013
CFO.com. McCann, D. (2009). Memo to CFOs: Don’t Trust HR. CFO.com. Retrieved from http://www.cfo.com/article.cfm/13270251 on 3/14/13.