What is the State of the HR Union?

What is the State of the HR Union? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

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?”  You can find Steve’s blog at www.sbrowneHR.com.


I love the title of your post, plotting Anarchy by the light of a Lava lamp sounds pretty cool.  And thanks for the questions from your post.  I will respond to those shortly, but first I want to pose a question to you and to the greater world that I think gives the back drop to what we are hoping to discuss in Atlanta the end of this month.

There was a time, when I worked on the outside of HR, that I could have described clearly to you what was wrong with HR.  But, then I jumped into the fray.  As a member of the HR community, I don’t feel like I can see the big picture the way I used to.  I have become a part of the system and thus the system has become harder to see.

HR has always taken some hard criticism that culminated in the August 2005 Fast Company article, “Why we Hate HR.”  Since then, it has seemed to me that there has been a lot of talk about how HR must improve and evolve, but are we making progress?  I’m not sure.  So, I’d pose this question to you and others who care enough to join this discussion:

What is the state of HR today?  (Could the same Fast Company article be written about us today or have we progressed in the past 6 years?)

We need some really honest conversation on this topic because my fear is that we’ve done a lot of talking and not a lot of changing.  I think the answer to this question helps us to determine the importance of action on the part of those who live in and lead in HR daily.

Now to your questions of me:

1) Being that you, and others like you, are my “future” in HR – why stick with a field that others rip apart?

This is a great question.  For me, it’s because I love the type of work that HR does.  My work is increasingly about helping people to manifest their talent and HR provides a great place to do this work.  I’d like to say that other’s perceptions and opinions of HR don’t bother me, but they do.  That challenge fuels me to keep up the fight and to prove what a great HR team is truly capable of.

2) What attracts you to stretching the boundaries of our field?
I’d like to say that it’s the challenge of HR, but in this case, I think it’s just how I’m wired.  I try to stretch the boundaries of everything I’m involved in and the work of HR happens to lie at the intersection of many of my passions.

3) Why should people even care about this session?

They should at least be glad that two HR leaders are willing to step forward and lead a conversation about personal accountability of the leader within HR.  Beyond that, the value of the session won’t come from us, it will come from the courageous souls who step into the conversation with us to create an experience together that gives us the motivation to keep up the fight and to live the solution.  
  • Jay Kuhns, SPHR

    I'm happy to answer your question Jason. HR is better today because the world has changed so much in the last few years. What does that mean? To me, those that have continued to push the boundaries of what HR can mean to an organization, even through one of the worst periods of economic distress in history, are the ones blazing a new trail for the profession.

    New ways of thinking, meeting together, sharing ideas, and communicating in real time across the world have changed how quickly we can learn and implement change.

    We also need, I believe, to justify why we're here. Those that are passionate and who aren't afraid to keep pushing hard are leading the way. There's never been a better time to be in HR than right now.

  • Charlie Judy

    Picking on HR is popular, but it's also Passe. I'm so glad you guys are leading this Track – no two better people to do so. My answer to what's the state of the HR union (in a word): "Precarious." We've transformed, we've moved up the value chain, we've acted in a way the business has challenged us to: we got strategic and operational; we streamlined and standardized; and in the process we got so laser focused on the organization that we thought of our employees as a collective homogenous unit as opposed to many unique individual units. HR is at a point where we absolutely need to convince the organization that our efforts are better spent on tailoring and customizing our support, services, and the overall career experience to the individual. Otherwise, our relevance will continue to be called into question. The state of our union is precarious.

  • China Gorman

    Great question and great answers. I'm a glass half-full kind of person. That's how I'm wired. And so as I look at the state of HR I am fill with positive anticipation. Why? Because the next few years are make or break. The challenges facing every business in the coming years are all about talent and people. Some organizations have too many people in the wrong places. Some organizations have too many people with the wrong skills. And many organizations don't have enough people with the right skills in any location. This is truly HR's time to step up with a long view and data-based business solutions to the talent and people issues facing just about every organization. And I for one think HR is capable of stepping up. The question is, will they?

  • John Jorgensen

    Like Charlie, I will describe it in one word, but a different one..transforming. HR is still evolving into more of a business rather than a servant mindset. Over the past few years, HR has become more aware of the need to take note of and action in the business/financial end of things. The profession seems to be taking longer than others in the business world to do so, but that may because we had farther to go for the most part. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, tahat for once I don't think is an on-coming train.

  • joe gerstandt

    I am probably the weak link in this conversation, but that rarely keeps me quiet. I appreciate being connected to people that truly, truly, truly care about the craft that they are a part of. Jason and Steve care about HR as much as anybody I know, so I take their perspectives very seriously (as I do the perspectives of John, China, Jay and Charlie). But. I find myself fearing that we are working very hard to win a battle in a war that is being lost badly. Regardless of whether or not HR is doing better, I personally see a great deal of evidence that our organizations are not doing better and continue to be incredibly wasteful of human capital due to dysfunction and denial. Sure there are exceptions…but overall, I feel like our organizations are clinging tightly to 20th century mindsets, practices and beliefs…all of which are increasing. Is HR becoming more strategic? I think absolutely it is. Is it becoming more business oriented? Yes. Getting more serious about social media, innovation, change? Yes. I am just afraid that the larger ship is still sinking and I increasingly find myself thinking about how we change that. I bump up against a strange disconnect almost daily, that may be familiar to the rest of you as well. I hit sources like HBR and a lot of the info shared on Twitter where there is great conversation about trust, courage, creativity, social media, diversity, listening, innovation, risk taking, failure, etc…and I start to think that those things are actually becoming part of the norm. But then I go to work, and again there are exceptions, but inside most organizations those things are not even considered valid issues. Old school, command and control, information is power, we vs. them…these things are still the norm in business (from what I see). So. Not to be a huge downer here, but I am not sure that turning HR around is enough. It seems to me that our organizations need to be saved…and I am guessing that large parts of them actually need to be destroyed for that to happen…I wonder if we are up to that challenge.

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Jason Lauritsen