Over a year ago, in one of this blog's first posts, I wrote about HR eerily resembling the UN. This week's Fast Company cover story is entitled, "Why We Hate HR." The themes of these two pieces resonate deeply.
We all know that HR has become problematic in many, if not most, corporations. Why? Because its activities are too often peripheral to companies' main business objectives. Keith Hammonds, the author of the Fast Company piece gives four reasons for hating HR:
- HR people aren't the sharpest tacks in the box. - Hammond quotes a management prof at "a leading business school": "The best and the brightest don't go into HR." My question: why would they? Like the barefoot shoemaker's children, we must help HR "attract and retain the world's best talent." This is a significant challenge that will not be easily overcome.
- HR pursues efficiency in lieu of value. - Like the drunk looking for the keys under the lamppost, HR engages in too many "activities" that are easy to measure, instead of tackling more difficult, value-creating, problems. Where are the projects that demonstrate a company's "return on imagination?" Why would GE decide to focus on innovation in the absence of such metrics? Because business leaders like Jeff Immelt trust what they know, even if there aren't numbers to back them up.
- HR isn't working for you. - Remarkably, in this case, the "you" is either managers or employees. Standard programs and processes is HR's mainstay. We all know the predominant rationale behind performance appraisal (hat tip: Johnnie Moore) isn't performance enhancement but litigation prevention. One-size-fits-all is all wrong as a people strategy for modern business, but HR's bureaucratic heritage makes it constitutionally almost impossible for it to adopt more flexible, innovative approaches. This isn't to say these approaches are easy, only that they are crucial to creative business environments. After all, managing complexity is the key challenge of 21st century management, and if HR can't do so, it can never expect to truly deserve its vaunted "seat at the table."
- The corner office doesn't get HR (and vice versa.) - Employees view HR people as tools of management while management views HR as employee mouthpieces. Rarely is HR seen as advocating the right approach for delivering desired business results. In the words of a London Business School prof, HR pros need to develop "a point of view about the future and how organizations are going to change." I say, "Bingo."
This is not a trivial problem. Writing last year about HR's situation, I said:
[This] is a pity, because companies need talented people working together effectively now more than ever. If there ever was a time when the quality of the interactions that take place in a company directly affect results, now is that time. The network that is the modern corporation needs to be in touch with itself more intensely, more authentically, more informatively than ever before. This because the corporation has to quickly gather customer feedback (numbers, feelings, impressions, ideas, anything we can think of) and decide what to do about it (more, less, different kinds of products, services, experiences)...fast.
HR needs to take the lead in creating these capabilities. The only question is, can it?