It is too early to offer grieving ceremonials to the legendary people function: Human Resources.
(We are in early June…Extended summer days…Tender coal-tar and parched weeds on the cracked corner pavement…It’s stuffy and sultry…Stretching on my chair…Meditative on my own thoughts about my longwinded professional journey…)
Why we have a penchant for building justifications for the inexplicable questions in our life – that too as an ‘after-thought’?
Providentially, for last three decades, I thrived as a successful Human Resource Practitioner. At the outset (as luck would have it), all through my career passage, every milestone miraculously embodied with the triumph. It was like a pilgrimage. My profession has rewarded me with utmost reverence and affection of the people. I have been eloquently and cogently talking on various platforms about enormous meaningful possibilities the function has over various organizational imperatives. Even now, I am equally drawn to the point of distraction. Therefore, I’ve had a difficult time trying to taper down the possible “whys and wherefores” to seep through the enigma. All the same, I do recognize which side of the mirror I belong.
There are numerous studies and reports, swelling the corporate cabinets, chronicling the degeneration in the overall appreciation for the Human Resources function across the globe. I have come across multiple circumstances of organizational apathy, in most of the cases HR was never a crucial malefactor or an under-deliverer, but neither was around to make a powerful manifestation.
It is not that easy to erase word HR from the lexicon of the organization. But somewhere, we have to denounce our own fraternity for the predicament of the function. Regrettably, growing number of corporations are seriously debating and re-imagining the role of HR in their organizations. Many companies are now figuratively pulling apart HR function in ‘transactional’ and ‘transformational’ roles.
Why there is so much foot-dragging for the function?
Why one has to endure with an unceasing culpability that HR is not capable of evolving to the demands of the business?
Why to pigeon-hole HR as an obligatory cost?
Even now, I fondly remember space diving Red Bull Stratos project. On 14 October 2012, Austrian sky diver Felix Baumgartner flew 39 kilometres (128000 feet above the Earth) into the stratosphere in a helium capsule before successfully free falling without any help of engine power. That is when I learned about the terminology Edge of the Space’. What a fall: 1,357.64 Km/h and in just ten minutes. After reaching so high, descent was so short and immediate.
Is authority of HR falling brusquely after scaling up to the edge of the space?
I hark back to my struggle to identify a “thinking” HR leader for one the large regional role. Trust me, It took me more than seven months and strings of interview meetings to finally shortlist one. In most of the interviews, I had to politely but repeatedly enquire, “You’re listing the events. Whereas, I am interested in what you have essentially delivered?” Every contender was so transactional. Absolutely entombed in ‘Activity Syndromes’ and also loving it. Unexpectedly, the experiences of other global geographies were equally overlapping.
Recently, I felt distressed reading about a similar experience of a large Toronto based adventure –travel company, G Adventures, where literally a funeral was held for its human resources department. The fonder, Bruce Poon Tip, took such a radical stroke after investing plenty of time to identify a potential Vice President- HR for his company. “Every meeting I had, I couldn’t wait for it to end,” he says. “It seemed like HR was the art of oppression. I knew I didn’t want that in my company” (Todd Hanneman / Workforce.com/March 22, 2013).
If you ran a survey , I am sure you would observer deep annoyance across the hierarchy on the perceived role of HR. It is alleged more as an impediment to any proposed favourable change than a facilitator. The question is, why HR is not perceived to be a powerful catalyst to change. Why we are perceived abysmally ineffectual? Regardless of claiming otherwise, my many HR colleagues are exuberantly investing best of their time on routine transactional policies and compliances, assisting a functional head in an impersonal interview session, blankly participating in a business review , enforcing justification for repetitive weather-beaten training calendar, and in alleviating objectivity of a half-baked appraisal process to sceptical employees… far from it’s possible imagined role.
I have seen yearning in HR professionals for amassing impressive ornamental certificates, relentlessly canvassing for bookish best practices, and force-fitting few benchmarked generic HR modules in the system. As a result, they drift far away from the realities of current business and can’t even listen to the voice of nearest person. Living with a tag, at the best of a necessary evil, and devotedly morphing the role of a motorized bureaucrat. Answerable for imposing preposterous rules and insensitively encumbering constructive creativity in the organization. The answer for what your organization needs is not somewhere else. It is there in front of you. What you need is little sensitivity to feel it. Please do not sense that I am against scientific tools and certifications, many companies distinguish these certifications as qualification for methodically measuring transactionality of the functions. Yet, organizations eyeing for more strategic, business, and developmental orientation do not necessarily pitch for such credentials as indispensable. I am pretty confident that, your business partners would love to have a sensitive professional who could enable organizational capabilities to reconfigure its fundamental business strategies and respond speedily to swings in market demands.
It is high time for HR to move away from replicating finely-wrought academic modules. Where is your originality? Imitation is not flattery – it just shows a lack of originality. The function requires spirited, unconventional, enlightened revolutionaries who push their originality in the role. I am confident that Dave Ulrich would be traumatized to see how his Business Partner Model (1997), is mutely disfigured even in many established “people oriented” organizations. He visualized HR to be a centralized real value adding strategic business partner, but in reality HR has taken a liberated peripheral role, Independent of strategic goals of the business. Rest assured, I have no intention to elaborate practicality of Ulrich’s model in current changing global business scenario. That is a separate debate.
To be worthy of a defining function , we need to radically re-think and re- craft what HR should be doing and continued to remain relevant to business and future. We can’t be used as a door-mat anymore. A peripheral but necessary existence. You are remembered only when needed, that too, for mundane semi-sophisticated administrative work. At times, just be a CEO’s mouthpiece to pass down the ‘muggy’ messages or as a henchman to handle prodigality. Besides, you have other senior functional leaders, who often undervalue the role of HR in the organization. A fragile HR is an inordinate defence for all the things that do not drive right results. It troubles me when HR professionals be unable to internalize that they need to be the bridge between the organization and its people, rather than just behaving as a custodian to protect the timeworn rules & regulations. So, how you differentiate your utility in the given system. You need to seriously introspect to wipe-out many imitative, byzantine, duplicative, and improvident people processes from your practice book.
I plead sorry to all the HR advocates for my brutal expressions. I know you have multiple arguments to pin me down. I am fine if you are happy tagging your transactional and procedural endeavours as strategic initiatives. However, I am convinced that HR has only one truth left: transform before you are erased. I recently saw a provocative article in Wall Street Journal about various companies that have convinced to get liberated of their HR departments. I know for sure that few companies are dismantling the HR activities to be integrated with business groups. This will end up reducing HR to an outsourced administrative function. We will not be able to decorate our mark until something radical transpires. It seems, my HR colleagues are still too contented with believing in the glorified self-perception
Unfalteringly, we have to emotionally evolve as a people-professional, much above existing efficient and scientific transactional methodologies. For me, HR is nothing but a blaze of common sense with ultimate sincerity towards ‘human sensitivities’. We need to intensify ourselves to transcend towards ‘higher-order’ people inventiveness, that is, a ‘conscious connect’ with the experiences of the people in the system. Creatively and tangibly delivering towards shared purpose of the organization with a sense of urgency. Believe me, Rest all is academics. Let’s appreciate one thing that nothing should matter to you more than the people in your organization. Establishments are nothing without inspired people!
I know for sure that as an HR professional we all face enormous issues. But if I ask all of you to recognize solitary root-cause of our predicament, it is very likely that you all will have same answer. One crucial reason for labelling an inconsequential value to HR is in the ‘arbitrary signals’ by people who are in a position of considerable power. In many organizations HR professionals are not blessed with the support or respect to accomplish their responsibilities. Most of the time, senior leadership ignores their views, deliberately ostracise them from essential strategic meetings, and engage them in conventional ‘follow-up’ tasks. So, I do appreciate that why at times you ostensibly surrender to the realities and act as an insensitive brute.
All of us shut down when disrespected.
My apologies… I can’t be different, but yes…the intention is not to frown on my fraternity.
Let’s overlook all self-righteous critics and ridiculers of HR. Free up your energy to be paid out on more creative activities while picking up from past construal. There is lot to do and little time to waste. Practice what is right. Stand for your people. Question conventional organisational patterns. It is not easy to have courage to demand justice for your fellow employees or dissenting for what you think as “Right”. You may have to pay a price…I have paid it in my career. But, standing tall for you pride has a different kind of joy. People love you for that. There are very few things more esteeming than knowing that you are standing for your own portrait of ideologies.
It demands deep uncluttered thinking.
I have knowingly circumscribed this blog for mirroring…some other time, I would love to share my experience of becoming an indispensable business partner… and a value creator.
Till that while…All Yours!