HR work is no longer HR’s work – from an HR Strategy perspective


[Rob Scott writes] – I attended a dinner function in the last week with a couple of colleagues. During the evening we got onto discussing my favorite subject ~ HR strategy, and were having a debate about the usefulness of HR departments. The chap I was chatting to was in a typical mid-management line function and was complaining about the lack of HR support he was receiving and how much “HR work” he was doing.

I immediately said to him that this was a good thing, which took him by surprise. I continued to put my argument forward that it is not HR’s role to be managing his staff, and that the concept of HR being the department that deals with “People matters” is old and not contributing to organisational growth.

His counter argument was that he is there to make sure his business unit achieves its output goals and all this other HR mambo-jumbo is wasting his time. I did concede that if HR is dumping a lot onto him that is not value adding then he may have a point and should push back on doing stuff that fails to help him achieve his outputs. But, achieving his goals involves people, and he could not abdicate this role to HR or anyone else. Management of a business includes effective management of people. I asked him about his HR department in some more detail and how they had got to this point.

There are a number of interesting take aways from this discussion that took place. Firstly this is not a unique situation and its been an ongoing debate for many years. What it does tell me is that the role of HR in that organisation in not understood or positioned properly. Even though HR is trying to do the right thing by getting line management to take accountability for their staff in a holistic manner, they are fighting an uphill battle and will continue to do so until the executive reposition the HR department correctly.

The second point I would make is that the HR department does not realise the long term damage they are creating when they execute an approach without the proper backing and strategy. It backfires like we have seen with this line manager. His view of the HR department is not positive and he sees them working against him. Correcting this is now going to be a bigger problem than before.

Thirdly this does highlight a major concern with the level of strategy knowledge within HR departments. HR folk tend to be good at designing and executing activities inside the “HR space”, but can do with some support in executing programmes into the larger strategic realm. It points typically to the lack of business understanding and how to position HR strategically.

The forth point is about line managers themselves – I personally think that most of the push back to managing all aspects of their staff is related to fear and uncomfortableness with dealing with difficult people situations. This highlights the need to select management correctly, and not just appointing the good salesman into the sales manager role. Not all people are good and dealing with people matters, but it must be a requirementfor management and supervisory positions, and training and development in this space is a necessity.

Lastly it is also senior managers responsibility to measure people correctly to achieve particular behavior changes. If this line manager is rated on how he achieves his output goals, then that’s what will drive his behavior, however, if he is also measured on how he effectively manages people and gets the best out of them then that will drive another set of behaviours – but its all part of a well thought out HR strategy.

Some of you may be thinking whether there is a need at all for an HR department if line management become super proficient in managing people. The answer is not as simple as a Yes/No, but I do think that you can get rid of the HR department as we know it today. Concepts such as HR shared services and other components that are administrative and transactional in nature can be owned by an inclusive services division. But HR strategy and expertise groups would still need to exist, but could be intertwined into the organisation in other ways than a separate department. Sounds like a good topic for a later discussion.

Check out the poll below about how you feel about your HR departments.

One comment

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Rob. “HR management” is a vital function (it could be argured the most-vital function) of any manager’s job. The good ones I know have it figured out and use the HR department within that paradigm.

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