Are We All Just Drinking the HR Kool Aid?

I’ve had people telling me that I should move out of HR and into operations for almost 10 years. The VP at my current job jokes about it at least once a month. “Are you sure you don’t want to go run an Ops Territory?” I always laugh it off and graciously tell him that I’m fine right where I am.

But while I laugh on the outside, I balk on the inside. Because although I know he means it as a compliment, there’s an insult buried just beneath the surface that says the function I currently perform has little or no value. Then I begin to wonder if making that kind of move is something I should seriously consider …

I was still pondering this when I stumbled on Alan Weiss’s article “Quo Vadis, HR?” The first thing I had to do was Google the phrase because I took a class in film over Latin in high school. I found out it means “Where are you going?” Where is HR going? Hmmm …

Well, according to the author, HR is going nowhere because it is stuck in the tradition of itself and it is unwilling to share or relinquish any of the knowledge it has so that others are able to take on the work HR is assigned to handle. According to the author, unless HR changes radically, it will be extinct before too long.

And I’ve been hovering around this article ever since.

On the one hand, I agree with Alan Weiss. If HR doesn’t change, it will become useless. In many organizations, HR already is useless—or at least gets treated that way. We are fighting for scraps at the proverbial “table” where everyone else is welcomed with a red carpet. Everyone else is served a feast while HR is being roasted. It has been this way for at least a couple of decades and it isn’t changing. At least, not at any rate that anyone is really happy with.

I also agree with the idea that HR needs to immerse itself fully in the operations of the company to understand what the frontline leaders are experiencing because it makes both people more effective in their jobs. I’ve done this with every company I’ve ever worked for. And I make my staffers do the same thing. It is critical for us to
have this knowledge to assist in coaching, counseling, developing, employing and engaging the people who work for and with us. But I feel this way about all departments and positions. Any employee that doesn’t have comprehensive understanding of what each area of the organization does and how it helps the
organization achieve its goals is useless, no matter what area they work in.

What I am struggling with is the notion that spending an entire career in HR is an “isolated, non-credible career path.” Ouch! I’ll concede that if your goal is to be CEO of a company someday, HR is not the yellow-brick road to that great land of Oz. But that doesn’t mean your career won’t be a positive one with a brilliant legacy. There is value and honor in the work I do as an HR professional, regardless if I never make it to the C-suite. I owned the HR function in every place I’ve ever worked and I make
sure to bring all the work I do back to the values, strategy and goals of the organization. And my belief in the value of the function and work done within it doesn’t make me a part of a “cult” or party to perpetuating “the biggest scam
hoisted on Corporate America.” It makes me happy at my job—and damn good at it,
too.

Where I’m also struggling is Mr. Weiss’s notion that HR lacks the talent or will to rock the boat and perform transformational work. He goes on to say HR’s ineptitude in this area is what makes so much work for consultants. There’s no doubt in my mind that HR has the talent and desire to rock the boat until it capsizes … but HR can’t do what consultants do and expect to remain employed. Can a person even be a consultant in their own home? Not really. Because once you deliver those tough love wisdom nuggets, you don’t get to leave. You still have to exist and be productive with those people. Consultants can swoop in, tell a CEO everything that’s wrong with the organization, lay the foundation to fix it and peace out!

That’s not to take away from the great work consultants do. Sometimes executives in the organization are too close to the problem to see what needs to be done. And it would take a series of posts to talk about how resistant people are to organizational change and all the reasons why. But it is important to note that this is universal across all areas of an organization, not just HR. If you are someone within the organization, the transformations you make happen will be more gradual and incremental than grand and sweeping – unless all the leadership of the organization agrees that radical change is needed and everyone is committed to making that happen.

And if the people in charge of the organization don’t see any problems and aren’t interested in making changes – even if the organization needs to change – why is it on HR to sacrifice itself and bear that bad news?? I don’t think it is. I think you either accept it and work optimally within those confines OR find yourself another job. You may have to do both for awhile. But do it in your own way and on your own terms. Not because Mr. Weiss or your VP or anyone else tells you that it will put your career on a better, more important, more valuable trajectory.

But maybe I’ve just been drinking the HR-koolaid for too long. Tell me what you think?

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