The myth of business experience

There are few things that get more annoyed than people asserting that HR people need to have “business experience”. It has become one of those arguments that is too easily propagated, without any real challenge ¬†– and when placed under scrutiny is easily shown to be wanting.

Firstly, I’m not sure what “the business” is. My instinct is that it refers to a profit or service centre, historically the heart of the organisation. But organisations are changing fast and there are functions that exist that didn’t exist five years ago and that often drive significant improvements in performance, are they the business too? The assertion is outdated and suggests an internal service model which is increasingly becoming obsolete in forward thinking organisations, where collaboration and expertise is key.

Second, it assumes that HR practitioners have no unique skills or experience and that they are simply applying ¬†playbook in their organisational context. You hardly ever hear the same allegation levelled at finance or marketing professionals. Does a vet have to have been an animal in order to do their job? In fact, you could as easily argue that every CEO should have worked in HR. People are our most important asset….after all…..

Finally, it misses the real issue. HR practitioners don’t have to work in the business (whatever it is) to be curious about it. You don’t have to be something to understand it. Rather than aspiring for an outdated explanation of an issue, we need to refocus our efforts on the core operations of our organisations, understanding them and the role that people have in delivering success. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to improve, it just means we need to be intelligent about the improvement.

That’s how HR gets better, by being thoughtful, mindful and curious, not by aspiring to do someone else’s job.

It’s time to move on.