The Relevant HR Function: A Manifesto

I believe that HR is, for the most part, irrelevant…and has been for some time. Simply look at your favorite social media outlet and you’ll find countless posts on the “why we hate HR” theme. I believe this stems from 2 areas:

1. A lack of professionalism in the people serving in the HR function
2. Most business executives’ views that HR is simply overhead

Does this dynamic exist in your organization?

Consider this.

I was at an event, a gathering of over a hundred HR people, on Valentine’s Day. I was looking around at how this group presented themselves and I saw people wearing cute sweaters and fun ties with hearts on them. It’s Valentine’s Day, after all!

However, how do you take someone seriously when they’re coming to talk to you about organizational change or strategic action when he has hearts on his tie or a Valentine’s sticker on her sweater? Are other executives in the office dressed like this?

This is just one example, but many others come to mind. I recently participated in a meeting attended predominately by people new to the HR profession. During introductions, one person said that her background was in social work. She moved into HR to prove that “not all HR people are mean.”

My initial thought was “well, that’s good for you, but if you’re bringing the social worker approach to the business world, then that means that you’re not bringing a business approach.”
And what about HR being simply overhead?

This comes back to the common idea that anyone can do HR.

I’ve had way too many chats lately with folks who think anyone can do HR. They tell me that their CFO has a good handle on their HR processes. They tell me that their office manager handles HR. They tell me that their marketing person stays up-to-date on HR issues.

How is it possible for someone to effectively “have a handle” on HR when that’s not their primary job responsibility?

I’ve been an HR professional for 25 years, and there are days when I don’t feel like I have a grip on all things HR because of the sheer speed at which things change!

For most organizations, HR is the single biggest line item in their budget (typically about 30%). Yet we put someone with no professional HR background, whose main job responsibility is not HR, in charge of 30% of the budget…because we think that anyone can do HR!

Think again.

HR is not simply overhead in your organization. That just doesn’t make sense. But it’s no wonder that’s how we’re viewed.

I believe that the sole purpose of HR needs to be on impacting the business.

Just like every other department that gets paid to bring solutions to business challenges, HR must move away from being a “people advocate.” To be clear, I am not advocating that we move back to the ways of the sweatshop. However, it is imperative that HR better understand how the people of the business help the business succeed, not the other way around.

I believe that HR should not be the “corporate police,” the “compliance department,” the “party planning function” or serve as the “Chief Paperwork Officer.” These functions are administrative in nature and can be handled by any non-HR person.

I want HR to embrace change. To let go of the status quo, of rules, of procedures. I want HR to rise up from mediocrity, to no longer be the bastion of the “this is how we do things” mentality.

I want HR professionals to be strategic thinkers and well-rounded business professionals. I want the HR function to be staffed by the best and brightest minds in business and to once and for all squash the mindset of business leaders who believe “anyone can do HR.”

I want HR to move beyond developing rules and procedures and focus instead on developing processes and strategies. To stop worrying only about the legal ramifications of decisions and worry about the business ramifications of decisions, too.

If you’re reading this and wondering, “okay, but how do we make that happen?” Take a look at this post.

I know this to be true: HR can be easy. We make it hard.

Low level thinking, failing to understand what makes our business successful, and an inability to articulate the worth of our function creates an environment of failure.

Successful HR can be boiled down to the following: Develop an HR Strategic Plan that supports the Company Strategic Plan and boosts the Organizational Culture. Based on that HR Strategic Plan, develop your plans for learning and development, compensation and benefits, performance management, and work-life fit.

Getting those items right will lead to attraction of quality talent and the retention and motivation of the talent we already have. This in turn leads to engaged, productive employees who will drive business results.

I know that if HR would focus solely on business success, we would have the coveted “seat at the table.” We would be respected as business partners. Our contribution would be easily measured and no longer seen as overhead, but a necessary investment for growth and success.

Finally, I know there will be detractors to what I have written here, including many in the HR profession. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I know that the loudest complainers about my statements will be those folks who are simply scared by what I’ve outlined here. Too scared to change, too scared to admit that the old ways don’t work, and haven’t for years. Unwilling to face the new business realities and unwilling to realize that they are part of the problem.

C’mon HR, time to be relevant.

Like what you’ve heard? Let’s chat further about how I can make your HR function a strategic contributor to your business goals.