Time to blow up HR

The cover of the current issue of Harvard Business Review displays a cartoon bomb and a headline that practically screams from the page, “It’s Time to Blow up HR and Build Something New, and Here’s How. “ Ouch!

This headline reminds me of conversation I had with a senior line leader when I first made a job change into HR almost 20 years ago.  His advice to me was, “infiltrate and destroy.”  Really?!?  Uh-Oh!!!  Maybe this career change wasn’t such a good idea…

Both the HBR and my former client express strong sentiments about the state of HR.  In my clients’ case, he was expressing frustration with the bureaucratic nature of HR, with the hope that I could influence change.  What he needed was an HR that could help him get where he needed to go, not one that placed hurdles and roadblocks in his way.

Unfortunately, it’s almost twenty years later and HR is still getting a bum rap.  We’ve got some work to do.

In the lead article in the referenced HBR issue,Why We Love to Hate HR…And What HR Can Do About It.”, Peter Cappelli shares a historical perspective that points to an increased reliance on HR when talent is scarce, as line leaders lean on HR to help recruit, retain and develop employees.  During those times, managers seem to have a direct line of sight to the value of HR.

But, what about the rest of the time?  How does HR consistently provide a value proposition to line managers and the business?  And not just a tactical value; I mean real business value, where business leaders rely on HR to help move their business forward.

I believe we need to reduce the noise of HR and increase the business value.   Establish a solid foundation for basic HR support to employees and managers as the cornerstone to building a consistent value proposition.

Get the basics done right and then get out of the way.  Step back and take a look at the bigger picture.  Be customer centric; what is our customer, the company, trying to achieve and how can HR help them get there?  For example, while it’s terrific to be able to run an accurate headcount report, wouldn’t it be even more helpful to have timely and accurate insights regarding how talent and company culture impact business strategy?

I’ve enjoyed my HR work over the years and tried to keep my internal clients on the “love” side of the “love to hate” relationship with HR. I’ve done this by meeting the challenge of fixing what needed fixing, and building what needed building.  I’m confident that the work my HR colleagues and I do contributes value to the business. Twenty years ago, I was in the right place at the right time.  What’s your story?

Naomi Yergey joins us from Merck & Co., where she’s spent the past several years helping to install new HR technology, optimize HR processes and transition administrative work to HR Shared Services, freeing HR business partners to focus on strategic business initiatives.