Reality Check for Human Resources

Reality Check for Human Resources 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

This past week, we hosted an event called The HR Reinvention Experiment in Omaha.  It was a group of HR leaders from around the state of Nebraska who came together to talk about the current and future of HR.  The topics and discussions were very rich and I came away with a notebook of ideas for blog posts at the end of the day. 

One of the conversations that really stuck with me was one on why HR still seems to crave and grab onto any opportunity we have to enforce the law (employment law, safety, etc.).  The question was posed by Paul Hebert as he led one of the sessions, “Should HR be responsible for enforcing the law?”  His underlying point is that HR doesn’t necessarily need to be the cop, but could/should instead be more focused on educating managers on the law as it relates to managing and letting them be individually accountable for upholding the law.  His point is a really good one to wrestle with. 
But, we still seem to like to grab onto issues of law in HR.  My belief is that we do this because the “law” represents the one place were we feel we can grab power.  When it’s the law, we feel confident to say no and mean it.  That feels powerful.  It also pisses other people off and it’s a lot of what makes the rest of the world hate HR.  So, this discussion led into a bigger discussion about the nature of HR and why we haven’t made more progress within organizations being recognized as leaders–why are we still sitting around talking about being at “the table” after all of this time.  What’s gone wrong?
Through this discussion and my own experience in HR, I’ve come to some conclusions about why I think HR still sits on the outside looking in when it comes to the most important discussions happening within our organizations.  
  1. In HR , we have a crippling desire to be acknowledge and validated.  For whatever reason, we haven’t figured out that the merits of good work stand on their own.  As a profession, HR lacks self-confidence.  It seems that we keep running around yelling “Notice me, notice me” when we should be focusing on just getting things done.  Our desire to be “invited” to the executive table is our problem.  We need to stop worrying so much about being loved and valued by our organizations and more time making things happen that create value. 
  2. Great HR is invisible.  Zappos was discussed as an example.  Most people in our business hold Zappos up as the pinnacle of a great organization built on a great culture.  The only name we seem to hear is that of Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, but they are doing great HR at Zappos.  The fact that no one talks about HR at Zappos is a sign that they have some great HR going on.  If you are going to work in HR, you have to come to the realization that our work is about helping others be successful.  When we do that well, the organization is successful and they don’t even notice HR was there.  If you desire to be recognized for every good thing you do, go into sales or product development.  HR gets the most attention when it’s broken.  That’s just how it is. 
  3. Human Resources has a brand problem.  There is a lot of baggage that goes along with being labeled HR in most organizations.  The discussion on this topic quickly turned to the idea that we need to change our name to resolve this problem.  However, a crappy product with a different name is still a crappy product..  Think about Hyundai cars.  Ten years ago, Hyundai had a terrible reputation for making cheap, unreliable cars.  In the past decade, they re-engineered the product and thus, recreated their brand.  Today, they have a totally different and more positive brand.  In HR, if we want to fix our brand, we have to fix our product.  It’s not about a name.  It’s about a fundamental re-engineering of what we deliver to our organizations.   
  4. HR is in the influence business whether you like it or not.  Rather than trying to grab power by grabbing onto legal considerations that give us the ability to say yes or no, we need to permanently let go of the need for yes/no power.  Instead, we have to embrace that we can’t and don’t want to make anyone do anything.  Our objective should instead be to influence others to do the things that will help them to be most successful.  Influence works optimally when the person you are influencing makes the decision to do what’s right AND they look back thinking it was their own choice to do so.  Influence is tough work.  It’s much harder than being the traffic cop in your organization.  HR leaders` of the future will be masters of the tools of influence.  
This how I see HR.  I would welcome your thoughts and challenges to my thinking.  HR of the future must look very different than HR of today.  But, this transition first requires a major shift in how we think about, define, and then execute the role of Human Resources.  
  • Steve Boese

    Jason – really interesting post and I think the points you have raised (along with Paul) resonate with many of the organizations that I have encountered as well. I know in the recruiting side of HR, we talk about influencing all the time, but as you suggest perhaps the rest of the function needs to embrace the influence model as well. And to your point about Zappos HR, next month the Zappos CHRO is going to appear on the HR Happy Hour show, and hopefully we can learn just a bit more about how HR helps to support the culture and success there.

  • Jay Kuhns

    I really like your perspective Jason. I grow weary of HR professionals making excuses for why they aren't important enough v. elevating their game and making an impact. There is a lot to be said for a high energy leader who is not afraid to bring new ideas to the table.

  • Rebecca Ryan

    Jason, in my mind as I was reading this post, I saw the typical, tired, graying, chicos-wearing HR lady.

    I agree with all of your points, and would add one more. In the places where I don't see the chicos-wearing-HR-Lady (and instead see arse kicking, visionary HR types), I usually also see a culture that really "gets it" – that people are The. Differentiating. Factor. These are fun places to work, places that honor the human spirit.

    Maybe the reason HR needs to feel more acknowledged and validated is because in most cultures, the honor and importance of people is generally underappreciated?

  • HR Introvert

    One area where I think we can make progress in this regard – in larger organizations anyway – is not accepting the responsibility for anything and everything that reaches to the employees.
    For example, in my work the legal department approached HR about a training program for compliance issues. As we were wrapping up the development, they asked us how we planned to deliver the training.
    I told them – we will help you schedule the training, but delivery needs to come from your experts.
    "You want the attorneys to do the training?"
    Yes. They are the experts. They own the compliance process, and they need to have a face to the organization if people are expected to respond.
    I think your point 1 leads HR folks to "do" whatever is asked, even when it might not be the best solution. Which then contributes to point 3 – the brand issue. As for point 4, it was hard to push it back to them, but I know we gained a lot of positive recognition just for the discussion. They are doing the training, and they realized that they should be.

  • Dave Ryan

    I agree with the Introvert inasmuch as thier comments are part of the answer to the question you pose about HR. Why is HR grappling for power and authoriy, because HR is the one the usually takes the hit when there is a problem. Remeber the shootings at the beer distributor in CT. There was a lot of incinuation that there were racial issues there, a tense work environment, and a host of other issue which were not properly addressed by HR.

    Now moving forward if we are to be a cop we could be a little more like Andy of Mayberry and make everybody happy, but sometimes that doesn't always work with everyone. I agree that HR needs to get better — a lot better, but we can't be the only ones changing in the organization.

    Great post by the way and it sounded like an amazing event. Congratulation on your sucess!

  • hrperspectives

    Jason – – –

    Excellent post. I really appreciate and agree with your perspectives — most notably your point about good HR being "invisible." A corollary to that might be the idea of the goal of HR being to work itself out of a job, because we've helped all managers become such good "HR" people. That's an exaggeration, of course, but does go to the point of helping others be successful without becoming dependent.

    I loved your point about Hyundai's re-branding. Putting out new marketing materials wouldn't have meant anything if they hadn't also truly upgraded the quality of their cars. Similarly, HR can call itself "Human Capital Management" or any other new term or buzzword that comes down the pike — but that won't mean anything if we don't deliver on our day to day promises (carrying out the "blocking and tackling of daily HR — compensation, benefits, hiring, etc — with excellence). As Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy put it, it's all about EXECUTION.

    Thanks again for an outstanding perspective.

    Michael Brisciana

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Jason Lauritsen