HR Still Has Identity Problems28 Jan 2016

I recently read an article “Why We Hate HR.” It was not pretty reading. Once you cut through the cheap and well placed insults (which have a real ouch factor) it came down to a number of issues, as far as I could observe.

  • HR are not strategic partners, nor really have a place at the “table”
  • HR are neither leaders nor strategic
  • At best a necessary evil, at worst a dark bureaucratic manipulated force
  • Henchman and in the pocket of the CFO
  • Not the “sharpest tacks in the box” – only business failures choose a career in HR, because they are not capable of holding down a “real” leadership role
  • HR people join HR because they like working with people or are good at administration
  • No link to real business performance
  • Outsource transactional services to leave HR with what we are not very good at, i.e. anything other than admin…
  • Don’t recognise and reward talent, instead benchmark against market data and handcuff leaders from rewarding their stars with what they deserve to retain and grow


  • Executives, despite their warm noises, really don’t think HR matters…

Annoyed yet? I was. However, once I had some time to consider these points I began to recognise that whilst harsh, there are some home truths in there for us to consider.

Let’s take the tough one first, that we are neither strategic nor leaders and that we are at best administrators, and unfortunately not the brightest bunnies in the box (UK not US phrase as quoted above). Well this is, I have to say, partially true regards our strategic input, not from all, but certainly from many of our profession. Too often we struggle with what really is business and HR strategy, versus tactics. I have to admit that much of what I have delivered in my career has been tactical, answering the strategic need rather than setting the strategic goals with my business colleagues, so I in part yield to this point.

Regards being administrators, I have to ask you to hold up your hands. Are you? The whole outsourcing question comes into play here and I have to say I’ve seen it. HR people who can, do, HR people who can’t, administrate, but we all have to deliver some admin, as some of our role has to be managing the HR value chain to our clients / partners. However, to really add value we have to step beyond just administration into real value creation through HR policies and processes.

Finally the “not the brightest” may be leveraged against HR in some parts of the world still restricted by an obsession to follow due process and protocol (not naming any nation, just think of an obsession with litigation),  but I refute this of UK HR at its best, where I have seen and continue to see real HRBP activities.

Of course we then have to jointly confront the question, are we in the pocket of the CFO? Well maybe yes sometimes, because financial control is the domain of the CFO, whoa there is a surprise, but HR can add value by ensuring that our function aligns with the business strategy, and delivers whatever that may be. I remember working with a sales community where their whole skill set and reward package was questioned by HR and the leadership team and supported by the CFO. In my many years in HR I have always found the Finance leaders the closest allies, not my leaders, nor I theirs, but a combined influence over a business which the rest of the team had to respect.

These points demonstrate to me a clear symbiotic relationship between people leadership and business goals. This is why people get into HR now, because the stage is different.

I have to say I have some sympathy with the commentary about not rewarding talent and being blinkered and bound by market data, norms, etc. I can see this, but for once I think it is okay for HR professionals to put on their “HR dark bureaucratic” heads on, because reward is more complex than just paying the most to those that shine (for now). Global employee engagement has to be more important than individual reward, though we should not be adverse to finding other ways to reward success, bonuses, short term incentives, career planning, don’t forget intrinsic reward can be as powerful as extrinsic.

Sadly our profession has taken a bit of a beating of late. The CIPD findings show that only 30-35% of employees think HR has a positive impact on them or their employer. We’ve got to improve on this. Yes I believe execs do value our contribution, no matter what “sceptic fella” has to say, but whilst we continue to grow our capability, we must not forget we have two roles to fulfil, “Business Leader” and “Employee Champion.” A difficult balancing act, but in your hands to deliver.

I think that as a profession we have lost our way a little, there are too many people calling themselves HR Business Partner, who are really HR Administrators, and too many people who still think HR is all about being a good Welfare Officer (no-one in HR I hope, or please leave the room now).

We need to move away from admin and tears & biscuits, and start grasping that place at the leadership table. Look if you can’t, that is no insult, HR needs people in all roles.

Let’s put ourselves on the front foot, so when next we read an article like the one I described we can laugh at it for being derisory with not an element of truth, which I don’t think we can quite yet.

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