Over two years ago on December 19, 2007 Keith Hammonds, Deputy Editor, Fast Company, came out with his memorable article “Why We Hate HR.” Almost immediately it was met with rejoicing by all corporate types. Finally, someone nailed it regarding many people’s experiences with human resources.
Many of us in HR were, admittedly, both embarrassed and relieved. Why? We were embarrassed because, if we’re honest, we knew that he was right. Many HR functions have and still struggle to maintain credible reputations as solid contributors to the business. For a lot of corporate people, the mere mention of the word, “HR,” evokes a classic roll of the eyes. But many of us were relieved to know that we were making real strides to rise above his concerns. We were and still are working hard to be business-relevant and create reasonable employee practices that impact the bottom-line.
I just reread the article again. And to sum it up, Hammonds believed that HR has lost touch with reality. We’ve lost touch with the reality of the business, it’s objectives and its real pain points. We’ve lost touch with employees and the reasonable people practices that they expect and need to stay motivated.
Granted, not all HR functions are as bad as he describes. And, thankfully, he did highlight several companies that are making noticeable differences. But they were, and still are, more of the exception than the rule.
Even in the 21st century, many HR functions still plod along the same bureaucratic trails that they did when they were called “personnel.” True, they may shun the old title and use current buzz phrases like “business partner” and “seat at the table.” But upon closer examination, they remain the same personnel departments that everyone in corporate America loves to hate. The fact that Catbert of Dilbert fame and Toby from NBC’s, The Office, get experience-based laughs tells us that much has not changed for HR.
I have a lot to say on this subject and one article won’t suffice. But here are a few initial thoughts:
First, as always, leadership starts at the top. CEOs and boards have to take responsibility for ensuring that the senior HR leadership positions are filled with business-savvy, credible professionals. If they do not back the vision for this kind of HR by putting a qualified leader into the role, then there’s no way to ensure that we will ever get beyond the Fast Company article.
Second, senior HR leaders must ensure that they have the same kind of business-focused, credible professionals in all HR positions. No exceptions. From the receptionist (an absolutely essential position) on up through the manager, director, etc., these roles must be filled with people who recognize that they are running businesses, not the department of motor vehicles. (Sorry, rarely a good experience.) No doubt, they must know their stuff when it comes to HR expertise and delivery basics; I’m assuming that. What I’m talking about is genuine credibility that goes beyond such things as knowledge of labor and employment law.
And I’m not just talking about the generalist or business partner role. This applies for all HR positions, including the specialists. Any compromise on the credibility and caliper of people in these roles will potentially compromise the entire department.
Lastly, boards, CEOs and HR professionals have to get religious about the fact that one of HR’s essential roles is to acquire and retain top talent. This truly is HR’s bottom-line and Hammonds emphasizes this as well. What this means is that everything that HR does has to help the organization secure and keep the best performers.
It is only by demanding true credibility in all HR positions and creating laser focus on the talent picture that HR will begin to move beyond the Fast Company expose’.