Time to split or redesign HR?

This blog is my reflection on discussion that has dominated webspace about HR, sparked by Ram Charan’s inflammatory article on splitting HR. I have provided links to his blog and two other blogs refuting his view.

Ram Charan – http://hbr.org/2014/07/its-time-to-split-hr

Josh Bersin – http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2014/08/01/why-does-hr-get-so-much-grief/

Gurprriet – http://joyandlife.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/hrexcellence/?utm_content=bufferbbded&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I want to share few of my stories as HR professional.

Story 1: I joined this new organization, big shiny one. After two weeks of observing, I walked up to my boss to clarify my core deliverable. He mentioned two big things – maximize learning hour completion in my business units and maximize budget spent. I asked him why do we have learning hours and he laughed at me that after working for 12 years in learning space and having led few business units, I was still asking this question. To give him credit he asked me to do more if I wanted to, as long as I get these two right and as long as my business leaders were happy. I could not and cannot fathom why the focus was not on relevance of learning and people skill development. I could not and cannot agree that purpose of big budget is to spend it and not optimize it.  I remember asking for half the budget next year and still getting as much budget knowing my business will never need it.

Story 2: We were a group of hard working fun loving girls at work. All from HR but with starkly different functions within HR. We loved working late hours most weekdays and then making sure we finish our work by 5 on Friday and go for happy hours to start a well earned weekend. One Friday, this girl said she will get delayed and join us by 7 which we were okay with. She stopped responding to calls or messages after 6 and reappeared only at 9.30 to tell us what happened. As she was preparing to close reports and activities at 4, she got an email asking her to process exit of 4 junior level employees. The business head who had asked for this had already left for home by 4.30 and all these 4 employees were waiting for her right at her seat. Business head decided to have his retention discussions with these 4 and decided to waive off the notice period. Without comprehending the effort and time it takes for smooth exit, he had sent this request and left for the day. His expectation was for HR to work as executioners of the process. I later asked my friend on whether they work towards retaining top talent. She mentioned that even when top talent left because of their manager, the manager would have had the retention conversation without involving or informing HR.

There are several stories to demonstrate business leader’s expectation that role of HR is hygiene and execution and salary distribution. I do have another story where a leader put his trust on our team.

Story 3: I was working on leadership development program for a business unit with a leader who had been industry for over 20 years. In one of my conversation with him he opened up with a major conflict with his second line of command who again were quite senior to me. He lay huge trust on me and I could not have disappointed him. We both worked through the conflict and challenges within the team so that they do not reflect in public or influence work. It was a coaching relationship which helped us both. I was more in tune with his team and he helped me with business nuances.

What are HR professionals today struggling with? Is it what business expects of us? Is it getting dumped with work that no one else would do? Is it incompetence? It is likely to be parts of above and more.

I remember talking with this leader who was my client in business and moved into HR head role. When I asked him what motivated this decision, he said that it looked like a good role with expanding organization, few acquisitions lined up and because HR was intuitive and anyone could do it. I could not believe that he moved into a role he had just sort of demeaned. I remember another HR head saying that if someone in the organization needs alternate work, s/he could move into HR and we will find a suitable role for them within HR. Another HR person was venting when she had to work on reports because she took up HR to not do maths or anything analytical anymore and thought HR was all about talking to people. At one point I was told that I would not fit HR because I was full of life and not motherly and here I am 12 years and counting in probably the function considered warm fuzzy even within HR.

There are stories and more stories of how HR is treated unfairly or how HR adds no value. Its a struggle for this function and I am sure it will eventually shape up, find its own place in organizations, find its seat at the table. For so called incompetent professionals there is a professional who is shaping the function to keep up with shifting times. For business heads who think HR is equivalent to admin, there is a business leader who is inclusive.

On the suggestion that HR should be split. I am confused by this because isn’t HR already split into several functions within. HR has continuously restructured itself and has been looking for terminology that justifies its role. There have been debates on label – Human Resources, Human Capital and now Talent. The function is now split into advisory roles and operational roles in most organizations. HR leaders are talking on several forums on how they are finding time and space from the overwhelming demands of operational work they have had for decades.

The recommendation seems to suggest on dissolving HR and that HR function is not needed. We can debate that HR function may not be required in its archaic form. Although I do personally feel even the archaic role of HR still holds value in organizations.

HR professionals should do three things on priority.

1. HR professionals need to upskill.  If there is no good course available on people strategy, there is no harm in attending course on business strategy. It will help us establish better connect with business leaders. HR professionals should engage in peer learning and collaborative learning so that the profession benefits from collective ideation.

2. HR profession needs reverse mentoring. This will bridge the divide between generations. Older generations will benefit from ideas and creativity youngsters will bring in. Also, the profession has undergone transformation significantly with newer structures and technologies. At the same time professionals themselves have not had much skill enhancement. Reverse mentoring will align expectations and shifts.

3. HR professionals should respect the profession, have an opinion, express it and continue to learn about business. Treat this as client service work which requires understanding of client’s work and challenges.

I remember a cheeky conversation with business leader who looked down on my work as just a warm fuzzy function. I told him that business has other things to worry about and should learn to trust HR with our work. Leave what they think is warm fuzzy to us because its a skill to do it consistently and effectively and we love doing that.

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