It’s HR bashing time again. On the Harvard Business Review - and the always excellent, Fistfull of Talent, CEO’s and CFO’s are venting their anger on that ‘soft’ ‘valueless’ ‘non business speaking’ ‘admin function’, HR.
Of course, the HR blogosphere (mostly in the US, but please do chime in!) has been quick to kick back (here’s a good riposte on HR Bartender and another on Profitability Through Human Capital which got me commenting and thinking and then led me here.
A few years back (2009) I remember a similar storm (again mostly in the US) around the theme: Is HR dead? More interestingly, it was started by HR itself (shows how low things got). You can dredge up the main articles on Steve Boese’s HR Technology site. Of course, everyone still points back even further to the still hurtful but seminal Fast Company epic, Why We Hate HR.
So let’s get things straight. Top table lite HR has spent a decade in the wilderness hardening up the so called ‘soft stuff’, getting down with social media, metrics, waging the war for talent, engineering workplace culture, and even now it’s not good enough? Good enough for who? For boards that in that time have cosied up to Wall Street and slavishly adopted short term thinking and made decisions that have ruined environments and bankrupted a generation?
I have a theory as to why we are here again and it goes like this. The MBA caste, who genuinely and foolishly believed that management and leadership was a science, are running scared. Their medieval accountancy models have proved embarrassingly off the mark. Their pay rises obscene. Their decisions, far from erudite and for the benefit of anyone, shockingly naive. As it dawns on them that the big stakes game is over – that there could actually be a new game in town with new rules - naturally they’re lashing out. But let’s see it for what it is: the posturing of bullies.
I want to change the debate, and I want HR to stand up for themselves. Not for a seat at the top table, but the big seat at the top table. Not to become one of the boys, but to tear down the idea that we really need a boys club in this century. Not to strive to be a ‘business partner’ but to be a leader and inspirer and game changer. A half way house isn’t a clean house, and above all we – our employees and our children – need businesses that are grown up and human.
Of course, we could trade metrics for a few crumbs now and then. We could be grateful to those bullies who prefer to keep their enemies close. But let’s for once be honest here. The old way didn’t work. Doesn’t work. HR aren’t nurses, were surgeons. We have teeth. Our customers and employees (and even politicians these days) want our brands to be open and transparent and ethical and green and integrated into communities. Not wedded to maths and risk and egos and a pseudo science of management and leadership divorced from reality.
So HR, please don’t whine when the bullies rant. Don’t take it, and don’t meekly join them on their terms. See them for what they are, smile, and move on. Your company needs you more than it needs them and your employees and customers are looking for you to stand up. They had the chance and they blew it. They know it, so they’re lashing out. Let them. It’s a sign your time has come.
Stuart Shaw, Director of Business Development and Research at HR Reset, is a regular writer on all aspects of thought-leading HR-HC transformation, including talent management, workforce analytics, culture, human capital risk, diversity and wellbeing. Passionate about rehumanising the firm through HR, he likes to draw on left-field ideas, often from academic margins, and in particular science. He works with his sister and HR guru, Lindsay Soulsby, and is based in Milton Keynes, UK.