Dumb acceptance

I’ve written before about the use of the term, “the business” when referring to areas other than HR. To put it mildly, it drives me nuts and normally it arises in one of two contexts,

1) from within HR – “we need someone from the business to look at this”
2) in criticising HR – “they need to spend more time working in the business”

I’m baffled, confused and (I admit) a little bit grumpy. Let’s deal with scenario 1 first as an amuse bouche of perfectly formed stupidity, before we move on to the entrée of down right dumb, stupid acceptance of idiocy that is scenario 2.

If you work in HR and think that you’re not part of the business, then give up now and resign. Go hug a tree, or stare into the sunset, or become a coach. Because you’re wasting organisational oxygen, space on this earth and perhaps most importantly, my time.

There. Done. That was easy, wasn’t it?

So let’s talk about the main event.

I’ve heard a number of people over time espouse the theory that in order to be a good HR professional, you need to have worked in, “the business”. In fact it often features in comments on this blog. Can someone please tell me what “the business” is? Where is this elusive mystical beast? Is it tucked away in the armpit of the Yeti, or squeezed between the tightly closed thighs of the Loch Ness Monster? If anyone sees “the business” running free, give me a call, we need to talk….

I work for a publisher, does that mean I need to do an editorial role in order to be able to do my job as a HR director well? If I worked in law firm, should I spend time as a solicitor? What about an abattoir? Would time as a meat packer help me?

And do you really think these roles have the same skill set? The same knowledge base and the same competences? Of course not. I’m as qualified to do an editorial role as an editor is to do my role. And I can guarantee they wouldn’t want to go within a million miles of my job – because most of them are sane.

Do we say the same about finance, about marketing, about IT? Of course, not. Once again it is just stupid, shallow, groupthink without really understanding what we’re saying or trying to say.

HR needs to understand the way in which the business that employs it works, it needs to understand how the areas fit together, the commercial model, the brand, the strategic direction and the external economic environment. Anyone arguing this will get my full support and a virtual fist bump (or wrist punch as we call them chez Morrison).

Of course, yes.

Anyone saying that people who move cross functionally can bring different insights and expertise to their business areas will get a note of commendation and a wholly platonic, virtual man hug.


But saying HR people need to spend time in “the business” is like saying that to be a good heart surgeon you have to have had a double bypass. It’s stupid, it’s crass, it’s unhelpful and it’s wrong. And most of all, it detracts from the main issue, which is ensuring HR teams understand and are passionate about their organisations.

That’s where the real story is at. Trust me.

It’s time to dump the cliches and move on.