Discard old HR mindsets, or you’re irrelevant…
ON JUNE 1, 2005, HR gurus Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank wrote “The HR Value Proposition.” They argued that HR value creation requires deeper understanding of business realities and how key stakeholders define value. The book’s opening lines were remarkable, “We like HR … We like the HR function because it allows functional experts to help sustain organization results… We like HR professionals because, for the most part, they value people and they work to create both competitive and compassionate organizations…”
“Why we hate HR”
On August 1, 2005, Fast Company magazine published an infamous article that was a tongue-in-cheek response to Ulrich’s and Brockbank’s book. The article was aptly titled, “Why we Hate HR.” It’s a must reading for all HR practitioners. Some will feel like looking at the mirror as they read the article.
But much has happened in the human resources practice since 2005. The article is perhaps worth revisiting. But to add salt to the wound, I shall make some observations resulting from 41 years of my own HR practice.
Old HR mindsets
Much has improved in the HR practice since the Fast Company article, but some practitioners have retained old mindsets, such as:
parochialism. It means a narrow outlook, usually focused on a local area. Some HR practitioners understand their turf, and nothing else. To create organizational value, HR practitioners today must have “breadth” to understand a little of everything in business, in addition to the “depth” required in HR’s functional areas.
Clueless about business. To deserve a seat in the Board, the top HR person must know the business of doing business, and the organization’s business. To be a strategic partner of the CEO, one must talk the language of business. The HR person must perform in such a way that the CEO shall not be comfortable making business decisions without consulting him/her.
Procedure-governed. Confine HR practitioners worth their salt inside a room with a computer and they’ll write the HR Policies and Procedures Manual from memory, all in one day. Many have mastered the employee manual, the code of discipline, and their own job description with clinical accuracy. Such mastery and discipline often make them inflexible and too procedure-oriented.
Dura lex,sed lex. Some HR practitioners are frustrated lawyers. They took up several Law units or have not completed the bar requirements. They make the “law” between employees and their organization as the sole basis for employer-employee relationship, often forgetting the business context of HR work.
Equality-conscious. As employee champion, some HR people often develop a perverted sense of fairness – that of equality, which to them means treating everybody equally in all aspects. This mindset reflects in their programs – across-the-board pay increases, longevity pay, and other motivation-killing programs. Differentiation and discrimination are HR taboos to them. This mindset often results in high levels of fixed costs, demotivation, and dissent. They don’t understand that the greatest inequality is to treat “unequals” as equal.
Myopia-inflicted. Many HR people cannot think long-term. Some focus on the here and now and the urgent. They excel at recruitment and coordinating picnics, sports and related employee programs, but fail at career and succession planning.
Too competency-focused. The more sophisticated HR practitioners have transitioned into competency-based HR systems – recruitment, compensation, and training. But competency is not the end-all and be-all. Performance and results are. Business requires more than skills from people – character, integrity, vision, drive, potential, perspective, and actual results over the long-term.
Defective measures. Many HR practitioners get good appraisal ratings. They commit to run HR programs, run them, and report achievements in terms of numbers of programs run. What the business needs is the value created by the programs – not the number of sales training conducted, but the increase in sales after the sales training.
Wrong HR Roles
Sadly, there are a few HR practitioners who have not outgrown roles that were common in the past. Some still have a perverted view of their roles.
Job dispenser. Some HR managers mistakenly think they’re job dispensers. They’re not paid to give away jobs, but to find the right number and kind of people required to achieve organizational goals now and in the future.
Policeman. Some act like a SPO4, and catches employees doing the wrong things or doing things wrong. Invariably, they also act as detectives, spies or auditors.
Payrollmaster. The top HR person’s job is not to make the executive payroll, but to help the organization find the next payroll money. He/she must help make the business financially viable by implementing the best HR strategies.
Choir boys or girls. HR should not join the chorus of “yes” persons around the CEO, assuring the latter that his decisions are great. In the inner sanctum, HR must be able to hold the mirror and tell the CEO, “With all due respect, this is how the people see you.”
Discard these old mindsets and you’ll be strategic, influential and highly valued. Play the old roles and you’ll be marginalized and irrelevant.
(Ernie is the 2013 Executive Director and 1999 President of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP); Chair of the AMCHAM Human Capital Committee; and Co-Chair of ECOP’s TWG on Labor and Social Policy Issues. He also chairs the Accreditation Council for the PMAP Society of Fellows in People Management. He is President and CEO of EC Business Solutions and Career Center. Contact him at [email protected])
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