Scanning the social media airwaves this weekend, a title immediately grabbed my attention, “Sack the HR department!” the title of a white paper from the “Great Place to Work Institute”. You can read the entire paper here but the summary highlighted a number of reasons why staff don’t have high opinions of the HR department.
HR function outsourced so more remote
HR staff seen as ‘whistleblowers’
HR staff not following their own rules about recruitment and promotion
HR turning a blind eye to managers likewise who don’t play by the rules
Line managers expected to carry out HR role with little or no training
HR seen as out of touch with the rest of staff
I’m not a great fan of “research” papers that are essentially there to sell a service. But the summary points resonated with a number of arguments I’ve made in the past.
I struggle to think of an example of an outsourced HR solution that has added long term value to the organisation and improved the service for employees. I’ve heard the arguments, sure, but the evidence? Last April I wrote a piece about the “Sausage Machine”. The outsourcing process, however, is the sausage machine on steroids, supposed efficiency drives and incentivises the dehumanisation process. It is as simple as that.
Trust is a theme that I’ve come back to time and time again. Most HR departments aren’t trusted and this makes any sort of intervention or improvement in the employee experience almost impossible. If you’re not trusted, your work won’t be trusted. If you can’t deal with confidentiality, you won’t be confided in.
And a lot of this is underpinned by the relentless desire by HR to be seen as “commercial”. Which so many read as, “doing whatever I’m told by the big bosses” and which, of course, in many cases is exactly the opposite. Sometimes saying “no” well is the most commercial thing you can do. If you want evidence just look at the role of HR in most of the corporate failures in the last ten years.
But perhaps the biggest warning light to the profession, is being out of touch. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Most HR departments don’t have a clue what is going on in their organisations. And sadly, most think they’ll solve this by learning to read a P&L. In the same way that there are no answers at the bottom of an empty glass, nor is their organisational insight at the bottom of a balance sheet. Well, certainly not the sort we’re looking for.
So does this tell us anything new? Not really. Does it tell us anything we don’t know? Probably not? Will we pay attention? I guess the good will but the bad won’t.
And that is the fundamental problem with the profession.