Do You Have the HR Department You Deserve?

There is an ongoing wail from the HR profession. We have heard the clichés and platitudes ad nauseum. “HR needs a seat at the table”, “HR is the key to the future” etc, yet nothing ever changes. Ever.

Why is this? Well, it’s simple. The vast majority of HR roles in companies have developed informally over many years. They have usually grown out of administrative functions; payroll, workcover, training delivery, policies and procedures. As a result they are compliance-driven roles and as such will attract a certain type of personality to accomplish the roles’ aims. Administrative type personalities are generally not strategic and more often than not, their decision-making profile is around risk-mitigation. They either make decisions based on corporate policy (that they’ve had little or no personal say in) or don’t make them at all. As a result HR is seen as the derided corporate police.

By way of comparison the very rare strategically-focused HR roles that are out there (less than 1% of HR roles perhaps) have tended to have been formally designed that way by more enlightened CEOs who have genuinely recognised the value that effective HR leadership can bring to their organisations. They have then set about selecting the HR people to deliver the role’s objectives based on personalities that can think ahead, can make and are empowered to make decisions, and are prepared to take risks to achieve corporate goals. Generally this breed of HR professional has not come through the traditional HR administrative career path. These people create real value for their employers and often do deliver the HR elysium of delivering sustainable long-term strategic competitive advantage to their organisations through their people. But they are rarer than hen’s teeth.

For as long as I have been in the industry there has been ongoing discussion and debate regarding the role of an individual’s personality in job fit performance, motivation and selection. But let’s face it, although job design can (and should) be accomplished with formal processes, more often than not it is accomplished informally over many years. This is by far and away the most common method in which HR Management roles are developed, and is also their curse.

So when I hear CEOs and business leaders maligning their HR people, complaining that HR does not deliver for them, or they cut HR resources the moment business gets a little tough, we should ask them; do you have the HR department you deserve? If you truly see HR as a strategic business partner, are you putting people into these roles that have the capabilities and skills to deliver on these strategic requirements? Or, like so many people, do you find yourself with an HR department borne from compliance and administration?

Let me know your thoughts. Do you agree with my assessment of why most HR departments struggle to make an impact or do you think I’m missing something?

Views: 97

Comment by Christine Colucci on February 2, 2011 at 5:49pm

I think you're pretty close. HR was born out of the personnel department (a very administrative function) and as a function it is still a relatively new one; that is sorely lacking an identity or at least lacking an identity that any capable HR practitioner would accept. I believe the fix it is to redefine it. What is one way of redefining HR well to start send all the admin functions back to being personnel and quite honestly have them report into a finance function or legal function. HR professionals should be focused on people development, succession planning, retention strategies, organizational development , ect... That is what HR should be and if it gets there the function will attract people who can hold their own at the table.   

Comment by Aaron Dodd on February 2, 2011 at 6:30pm
Thanks for the feedback Christine. I agree with you. The point I made in the blog was that the roles need to be redefined from the ground up. For example, I don't believe that payroll is an HR function, yet all to often I see it placed there. It should be under my finance. It will take a courageous CEO to redefine the role and empower the HR team that way!

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