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Is Human Resources Fatally Flawed?

Don’t think about it. Just answer me quickly: Is HR fatally flawed?

How many of you answered yes? When I first started writing this in April, I said yes too. Yes, this has been on my mind since April, sitting in my draft folder waiting for me to answer the question. And I can tell you, if I waited until I had a perfect answer, you may never have seen a post. In that time frame, I’ve gone back and forth but I finally come to the conclusion that HR isn’t fatally flawed but it does need some work.

Is The Tide Turning Against HR?

When I wrote this question back in April, I knew my answer but was afraid to post it. So I thought about it over and over again for almost five months. Here’s why I thought HR was through:

  1. Most of HR’s value could be outsourced – Heck, it already was in many cases. Everything from talent recruitment and selection to heavy lifting in critical employee relations and benefits matters were being taken care of (or very heavily influenced) by outside agencies and consultants.
  2. Unclear goals and ROI – If you are a small to medium sized company, you can’t afford to have an entire department sucking funds from your other profitable departments. At some point, HR will become a luxury department for large Fortune 500 companies (the same one’s that can afford to run advertisements simply to raise “brand awareness”).
  3. No input on business direction – You don’t get a seat at the table without having business savvy. You want to know why C-level titles or so inconsistent for HR? A true lack of business courage outside of the talent world. If you have nothing to add about marketing messages, sales forecasts, or budgeting issues, you’re of no use at the table. Let’s just put that to bed.

So I saw all of that and thought that in a decade or so, you won’t see robust HR departments outside of large companies. And even at those companies, HR would be in a precarious position if bad financials started influencing decision making.

Of course, my thinking changed.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

When you have a near death experience, one of the common experiences is the light at the end of the tunnel phenomenon. One of the other common experiences was a feeling of warmness, comfort and an almost enlightened state. Now some will tell you that it is your soul going on to its next destination or a series of chemical and electrical responses to your body shutting down. Whatever it is, when people come back from an episode like that, it is one of the few ways humans become permanently rewired.

What’s the connection to HR? I am convinced that HR is going to be transformed due to a soon coming near death experience. It is going to become a fad to integrate high performing HR folks directly with operation groups in organizations (it already has in some forward thinking companies). This will end up reducing HR to a complete administrative function and to the brink of death. People are going to scramble and eventually, a new way of integrating the talents of HR will hit someone and it will become the norm for decades afterward.

We won’t get there until something drastic happens though. People in HR are still too comfortable with the current system.

New HR: Now More Than Ever

HR doubters and haters are reading through this thinking I am just making the case for them. Only in their mind, HR just ends up dying at the end and everybody is happy. HR has heard this for how long, right? Maybe the biggest indictment on corporate inaction is the fact that the HR department you see today is still the best thinking we have on how to best manage our “most important asset.”

So I began thinking about what critical functions of HR I would want to keep if I wanted to put together a minimalistic but effective corporate structure. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Workplace Process and Productivity Expert – I would want someone that could look at a workplace process and figure out all of the issues negatively impacting the productivity. While some would put this under supply chain management, I would want a person that could incorporate supply chain principles with organizational development to give a wide perspective.
  2. Functional and Effective Internal Ombudsman – This would be a person that becomes the next generation of employee relations. Someone who would be comfortable (and be given the authority) to call out management and employees on their detrimental actions and be compensated based on solving issues. An internal ombudsman will command respect (but not necessarily agree) because their recommendations and results will be explained and made public to all employees. Hard to wiggle out of that.
  3. Employee Life Cycle Manager – This person would be the guru on how to best integrate new people into an organization, develop careers internally and anticipate and plan exits for any number of reasons. As part of their internal career management, this person would also be in charge of all internal and externally coordinated training and development activities. If you thought of your company’s employees like a giant factory with thousands of moving pieces, this person would know where each piece is at  and will be in any given minute.

Those would be the functions I would choose to continue if I had to cut it down to the bare minimum with functions I could track ROI and clear cut goals on. Everything else I could outsource effectively if needed.

Obviously there are people in HR that cover these areas in various ways but I’ve yet to see an HR organization that organizes them around these sorts of functions.

Does this make sense? If it doesn’t, what does? And if you’re happy with how things are currently structured, what’s the argument against trying a different approach if your manager came to you with this idea?

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