Since I have the pleasure of facilitating a session at HRevolution 2011 with Steve Browne, it seemed like a good idea to start the dialogue on our blogs before getting to Atlanta in hopes that we’ll be able to add more depth to our discussion there. The title of our session is “If HR is so bad, what are YOU going to do about it?”
Thanks for the thoughts related to the State of the HR Union. You and several others who I respect a great deal have weighed in on the topic and it seems to me that in summary, HR is in trouble. The descriptions of where HR stands today could be summarized as transforming, in flux, precarious, better, and losing the battle. There seems to be an idealistic sense that we’ve gotten better, but that seems like a pretty low bar to clear. With as much effort as we spend dissecting ourselves, having conferences, writing about it, we had better be better. There also seems to be some cautious optimism and anticipation of the future. But I would guess that pundits from a decade ago probably would have said much the same things about HR at that time as we are saying today. So, are we really making progress as a whole?
One this is crystal clear to me, we have a lot of work to do. I doesn’t matter where we’ve come from or how we got here. All that matters is the path forward. Personally, while I think it’s important that HR focus on becoming better and more effective, it might be time to take a giant step back and reconsider why HR exists in the first place and then smash that model to pieces. If we are truly honest, here’s what I think our mission statement would be for HR:
HR exists to try to compensate for and minimize the effect of poor management and a lack of organizational leadership.
This is the hard reality that we face each day. And when you spend your days and nights living this mission, there’s not much time left to address bigger issues like, “How can we make work more meaningful?” The dirty secret behind our entire discussion is that strategic and transformational HR cannot exist in an organization with a leadership vacuum. Organizational culture flows from the top and it does not change simply because HR is passionate.
So, that brings me to the question you posed for me in your last post:
Have we buried passion for HR in systems and methodology in order to appear to be relevant in the business world?
I am not sure that we’ve buried our passion under systems and methodologies. I think that our passion is getting choked out by bad management and absent leadership. HR cannot transform organizations on our own. All the passion, talent and skill in the world cannot compensate for a lack of leadership at key spots within the organization. You show me a successful HR leader or team and I’ll show you an organization with a strong CEO or executive team. They don’t exist independently.
Poor leaders favor the simplicity of systems and technology over the messiness of humanity. So I think it’s natural that HR, in our quest to be accepted by and welcomed to a “table” surrounded by executives with missing leadership capabilities who secretly wish people would more like machines, tries to build systems that promise to take some of the unpredictability out of managing humans. Shame on us for falling into this trap, but it is fairly predictable and hard to resist.
So, what’s the solution? For one, we have to stop enabling bad management. Our entire systems are set up to let bad managers off the hook, that has to change. We also have to seek out great leaders and commit ourselves to helping those leaders build amazing organizations where human potential can be set free.
Your ball, Steve. What do you think on this topic?