HR needs support, not judgment!
Search the web and you will find countless judgments and diatribes about the inefficacy of HR. For a while I was part of this group of people who denounced HR. But the more I engage with my colleagues and partners who have the difficult job of managing this function, the more I realize that the blame cannot be laid at their feet, nor can they be held solely responsible for the present state of HR.
Let’s park our judgments and take an objective look at the HR function and some of the challenges they face.
The first challenge they face is clarity of expectations. Few leaders or leadership teams are able to clearly articulate what they expect from HR. Everything that doesn’t belong elsewhere can tend to get dumped on them. More often than not, issues relating to people (which leaders and managers should handle) are pushed on to HR. In the less developed organizations, Admin is clubbed under the HR function. Many times facilities too. This dilutes and diverts the focus of the function leaving leaders stretched thin and defocused. Any performer or function is only going to be as good as the expectations you lay before them. There is an overwhelming focus on Talent Acquisition and often HR is judged by their ability to hire quality and quantity on time. Leaders who are part of the recruiting effort tend to forget their role and failures are only attributed to HR. And the same happens with Performance and Talent management too.
Secondly, I wonder how many leaders are really aware of how much the function has changed in the last 2 decades, demanding a change in skillsets and orientation of HR professionals. HR has largely been left alone to manage this change and upskilling in almost all organizations. Josh Bersin quotes data to back this up in his fantastic blog on the same subject. The qualities and skills needed by HR professionals 2 decades ago are very different from the ones needed today. Sadly enough most HR Heads today hail from that era, and while some of them have made the transformation, many have yet to do so. This equally limits their ability to mentor their younger colleagues. Outsourcing has meant that the operational and transactional content of the HR role now lies outside the organization and outside the direct purview of the HR function. HR professionals are encouraged to be HRBPs (business partners) which is a different order of skills, attitudes and competence. Lacking mentorship and investment in re-skilling, this is not happening at the pace required.
Which leads me to the core issue i.e. Support. Organizations where leaders are supportive of HR and understand the value and impact of the function have exceptional HR practices and a function that is respected. Others languish. I believe that great HR is an outcome of a CEO or leadership team that values and supports HR. More than anything else, it is this factor that drives the health and strategic impact of the HR function. I see support lacking in 3 areas:
1. The role of Leadership: Leaders who are unable to harness and leverage the function appropriately, do little to support it or develop it. HR is treated transactionally, has transactional expectations and hence is reduced to a transactional function. Yes, it’s up to the HR leader to influence this, but try influencing someone who doesn’t “get it” and you will realize that after a particular point in time, it is better to cave in and do what’s asked for, or quit.
2. The role of Academia: Premier B schools and even specialist HR colleges have done little to revise curriculum and pedagogy. Content seems to stay the same. Disseminating knowledge is redundant, since that knowledge is now available at the click of a button. The course curriculum and competencies that colleges develop has to change. And not just for HR professionals. When B-schools are able to educate leaders about the impact of human capital and how they need to leverage the HR function, we will see change. I am surprised how little attention is given to this area even in Management courses for senior leaders.
3. Selection: Even today I meet young HR aspirants who want to get into HR because they believe they are “People oriented” and HR would be a good fit. Enabling conversations that help prospective candidates understand what the function will require will help make more appropriate career and education choices. Refining selection criteria for college admissions and hiring will help ensure the right input and accordingly, appropriate output.
In order for HR to be effective, you do not need to “split the function” as Ram Charan says. You need an ecosystem fix. We need to ensure we attract the right people for the right reasons. That we equip them appropriately and that the function receives appropriate support from a leadership that understands the strategic value of HR.
To all the nay-sayers and ridiculers of HR, I ask you this, how come HR functions do extremely well in organizations that have CEOs/Boards who leverage the function, set clear but demanding expectations and support the function appropriately?
As a practicing HR professional or a Leader of a business, do you agree?