Why I don’t hate HR

I’m writing this because Neil Morrison’s last blog covers some of the same ground in a different way and the comments struck a chord with me. If you only have time to read one then I’d suggest reading his.

Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to speak on a panel of ‘experts’ about the future of HR. The question was actually ‘is there a future for HR?’. I was on the panel with senior individuals from two multinational firms. I said the following things that passed the lowest benchmark of wisdom – being tweeted by others.

Towards the end I told the room that businesses deserved better HR departments and there was an unusually high volume of approving noises. My overarching point is that as the world becomes more nimble and companies rise and fall faster there is no place for bureaucracy. We are about enabling growth – not keeping things safe. We are not policymakers, but business shapers.

The issue isn’t about people not understanding balance sheets – the issue is that if you don’t understand how businesses grow you aren’t in a position to help them grow. ‘Why haven’t HR embraced social media more?’ I was asked. The answer is half the profession haven’t got their heads around Excel yet. The world has outstripped our progress – as an aggregate – and we are playing catch up.

Nobody invites people to the toptable who simply want to tell you what you can’t do. They invite people who are part of the team of doing.  At the end of the debate I was approached by two groups of people (it’s lovely to be popular).

Group 1 – people who work in businesses – they told me their HR departments were slow, burdensome and obsessed getting in the way. They were relieved that some people in HR also agree. They shared tales of sheer, utter frustration.

Group 2 – people who work in HR – they told me it was unfair of me to write off a whole profession. I didn’t write off a whole profession, I was encouraging people to up their game to meet the standards set by some in the profession. It’s like saying that showing a photo of Pele to children when they are learning football is somehow a criticism of the children.

Someone telling you that you can be better is either giving you more space to play with or is an attack, but it depends on your mindset. We have too many people seeing forward movement of others as an attack.

The best question came from the audience ‘if the gap is so big, what do you do with those who can’t make the jump?’ The answer comes in two parts

  1. I believe in the ability of people to change and improve and grow. That’s why I do what I do. So I’m not writing off as many people as you may think. I’m telling them they need to change or become relics
  2. I believe that we should be no more protected in HR than any other part of the business. If someone in IT doesn’t fancy keeping current then they cease to become employable. We have people denying the march of progress. The thing about market economies is that you don’t get to decide your own value – other people do. If you stay still you get left behind.

That isn’t a criticism. That’s life. That’s progress.

I like to think of the best organisations as helpful. Places where someone can tell you that you need to improve something and you understand that intent. For a profession that spends a celebrated amount of time wondering what we are supposed to do I offer you this thought

‘Make businesses better’, not ‘make them less bad’

That will look different for different businesses and different phases of growth, but if you don’t get up in the morning and try to do that you are holding everyone else back. And they will eventually just let you go.

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