By Dave Crisp
After writing a series of posts recently about how HR is seen negatively by inevitably being caught in the middle on many issues, I’ve come to peace with the idea there will always be a steady stream of "hate HR" articles and we shouldn’t mind. It’s the nature of the job.
We can build on it by being better — better than average perceptions, better than we were yesterday, better than our critics.
But HR shouldn’t be contributing to the flood of negatives, as often seems to happen. Yes, we need to be better, but the fact is quite a few HR departments — dare I suggest the majority — are doing good work. I liked what I read in the Wall Street Journal from Rubbermaid: a newly hired HR leader emphasizing growing people, empowering them and building the right environment — and being backed up in this by her CEO talking about building the capabilities they need as opposed to rounding them up from elsewhere.
Lots of jobs are tough and not respected by everyone. HR definitely fits in there. What remains to irk me is the stream of HR people within the profession or "helpers" (consultants, people selling solutions and more) who seem to focus on the negative all too often. People in the know ought to be more supportive, but with products and programs to sell, we can’t count on it — so we need to start promoting our own value. This is as important a part of HR strategy as what we are doing in practice for our organizations.
Yes, there are right and wrong ways to do HR, just as there are right and wrong ways to do finance and accounting. We don’t see hordes of accountants and accounting consultants routinely writing about how poor most managers of accounting are in organizations. We see them promoting better methods and systems, but not suggesting in-house accountants are all unqualified, dumb or out of touch.
We don’t see, “I hate my accounting department and all the accountants in it who should all be fired” and we don’t see accountants from other companies suggesting this is the norm to be avoided or improved on. But then accountants aren’t perceived as the go to people to solve every person’s personal problems in the organization, hence they aren’t condemned the moment some person feels they didn’t get their way.
In fact, accountants are so comfortable that "they’re OK" they are turning toward HR with suggestions that we should let them set HR strategy. A banking journal proposes HR measures to be implemented. Everyone wants a hand in our puzzle apparently — and why not? If collaboration is the name of the game and we want non-HR managers engaged, bring on the debates — but let’s have a little collaboration the other way.
How about some budget money to fund the research, measuring and programs everyone wants, eh? And perhaps HR should have some input to finance strategy. If the CFO can’t explain why the bank’s investment strategies “seem unduly risky, but really aren’t” to us supposedly financially challenged HR folks, should we perhaps conclude the risk is higher than the CFO understands? That would apparently have been a novel but potentially valuable idea for the banks that subsequently went in the dumper.
I ask myself if I keep my HR operations headed in the right direction and promote them as "in touch with the business," if I make sure my up-and-coming HR people are informed and trained on how the business makes money and how financials track that, if I make sure my strategies are tied to company strategy overall and support the efforts of line managers, can I be sure I’ll be seen as the exceptional HR leader and valued inside my organization if nowhere else as contributing significantly?
Very likely yes... as long as I deliver payroll accurately and on time, keep the unions at bay or get good negotiated settlements, keep human rights off our backs (and junior managers from making the mistakes that bring on trouble), develop comp programs everyone likes (oops, that’s a tough order when everyone is convinced they’re worth more than the next guy). I should also be saving money on benefits, attracting the brightest candidates, speeding them into open vacancies, keeping our brand out there on social media, making sure we’re seen as socially conscientious, ensuring great succession and workforce planning and improving our performance appraisal systems which no one ever likes.
Let’s say I’m doing all that. Will I still need to agree with writers, bloggers, commenters, CFOs and everyone else who pumps out the criticism of other HR departments? Is there a benefit for me to agree with them to show how different our department is? I don’t think so.
I have at least two other options. I can keep quiet and just keep everyone informed about what I’m doing, keep my customers happy, keep in touch with their changing needs and likely solutions — or I can actively jump into the discussion in defense of HR and how far it has come since such outdated comments used to apply and offer some great examples, which incidentally I’ve incorporated in our operations.
We can start pointing out positive stories and inventive ideas for improving HR that people are trying, like Motorola’s co-operative branding effort that clearly depended a lot on HR to work. If everyone from CEOs and CFOs to marketers want in on HR, let’s invite them as long as they bring the goods to make it work and not just half-baked ideas they think “HR should do.”
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.
And let’s keep everyone clear that consultants don’t all have the magic answers. Maybe it’s not just "time for HR to take Google’s approach," as John Sullivan insisted in one of the articles linked in the last post, but to take on whatever creative approaches come with funding. At the very least we can show the world we are listening, as well as running a pretty good HR department, and all we need is some more support to go even further.