If I had a pound for every time I heard something negative about HR I’d be a millionaire. Irrespective of what role I have been in, external or internal; my experience is that the business isn’t convinced that HR is the “value add” it claims to be. After many years HR is still striving for a “seat at the table” in a few businesses, but what is it exactly that seems to be holding us back? After a bit of thought, I have settled on 7 deadly sins that HR is notorious for, how many ring true to you or your business?
As with all caveats in my articles, I will add here that I am and always have been in HR, so I include myself in the proverbial us and that this is, as always, a generalization.
1. HR feel a sense of entitlement. HR tends to think they run the company, that the company needs HR, not the other way round. Unfortunately, this is not the case. HR’s job is to be the architect of the people agenda and support the business against this agenda. What other role has had the term “business partner” added to the job title to remind HR that they work to support a business? That’s right, other support functions. The problem is, while most HR people are filled with great skill and good intentions, they aren’t always able to push back on management, nor are their challenges always respected. This can often put HR in a “nice to have” position rather than the essential position they’d like to be in.
2. They don’t always have the correct technology to be the SME’s they should be. In some businesses this is seen as a waste of investment while others just don’t believe in its relevance. In other situations its more about how the appetite for change is just non-existent, and cue that seat at the table we spoke about? A large part of HR’s meaningfulness derives from the ability to demonstrate the return of investment on the intangible “fluffy stuff”, and much of that is facilitated by technology. From the talent pooling, to the onboarding and the leaver data to the absence management. All HR functions need a robust end to end technology solution that many businesses fail to understand or commit to.
3. The structures are usually too fat. The wider and more hierarchical each department in HR, the more enmity seems to kindle as each department makes decisions that benefit its own interests rather than holistically for the business. This generally hinders the speed at which the business needs to change, and let’s be clear, change is the name of the game at the moment. Equally as important in this present culture is the necessity to do more with less, the more people in a structure, the more it costs the business. On the flip side, leaner structures benefit from higher levels of responsibility and the removal of excess layers in decision making. Bottom line is HR is generally resource heavy and most need to bring an OD focus to their own back garden.
4. Similarly to the above point, the department itself is often slow and bureaucratic and as a result, decisions take forever. Whether it’s a combination of too many approval levels in the hierarchy or people generally erring on the side of procrastination and compromise, decisions don’t get made at the speed in which they should. Wanting a group consensus or involving more than the necessary number of colleagues in the decision making, this gives the impression that there is more talk than work. This undoubtedly gives HR a poor reputation.
5. We sometimes suffer from too much altruism – too much focus on the business and not enough focus on ourselves in terms of professional development – if you aren’t your best how do you deliver your best? Any kind of development HR advocates, they need to want it themselves – expecting others to grow while you don’t is relatively hypocritical in some respects. And the same goes with performance appraisals, these are the things we need to be role modelling in HR to see those culture shifts and high performing teams.
6. Contentiously, we don’t eat our own dog food. We advocate hard conversations but don’t have them ourselves. We ask the business to role model difficult conversations but aren’t often able to have them ourselves. All too often I have witnessed HR do the very thing they accuse the business of doing in this regard and so it quickly becomes a sin, rather than a benefit, that we know a great deal about how to deal with people within a business.
7. We over complicate things. It may not come as a surprise to you that if you ask some of your business stakeholder what exactly HR does, not many can give you an accurate answer. Also, during times when people are crying out for transparency and authenticity, the last thing they need is a euphemism on what’s going on. Instead of having simple processes and measures, we over analyse and try to do too much of the sexy stuff instead of focusing on the basics and getting that right first. To add insult to injury, we also like to use too much HR speak when we do this, oh and we love a catch phrase too! A few of my personal favorites (sarcasm intended) include “circle back”, “low hanging fruit” and “reach out”.
Whilst all the above has been said, and certainly done, one point that’s hard to deviate from is that most of the people I know in HR are people who genuinely want to make a difference for their organisation or, at the very least, for the people that work there. HR are the first to be expected to deal with any ambiguity and change that’s thrown at them, professionally, whilst taking the business through it as well. Most practitioners I have met are opened minded and eager to be the conscience of our managers in committing to creating better outcomes for all involved. Under good leadership, most undervalued HR practitioners can achieve great things.
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