Why you should abolish your HR function in 2017


You will be sceptical – of course. You will expect this to be some kind of ‘clickbait’ nonsense to draw you in and feed my stats. The truth is though, I really do believe that 2017 is the year we will finally begin to at least talk about killing HR off for good.

HR is fundamentally broken. It doesn’t work and most people recognise that. The reason it doesn’t work is that we have gone through a metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly but have insisted on continuing to crawl.

The key developments in our profession have been:

– Administration of payroll records;

– Staff Welfare and Administration;

– Personnel (basically a blend of the previous models);

– Human Resources Management.

The problem with this – the flaw – has been a failure to recognise where the fundamental changes have gone beyond the incremental.

Personnel as a function made sense – and it can still make sense today. If you employee people, you need to hold data on who they are. You also need to comply with legislation and, perhaps, industry specific regulation. This involves a compliance based approach to understanding the prescribed framework and ensuring adherence to it. It has far, far more to do with accountancy and data protection than it does to anything relating to human beings.

Beyond the regulatory and legislative requirement, Personnel also involved the binary flowchart style decision making of disciplinaries, grievances, dignity at work investigations and capability procedures. Once again, the truth is that a smart algorithm could do all of this. There is no consideration of the human condition in the organised workplace. There is no focus on the best outcome for the organisation. There is a simple, dogmatic, approach to the application of policy and procedure in which justice is blind and the only test is whether or not we have adhered to the requirements of an often out of date and stale pdf document exceeding 20 pages in length.

What HRM (Human Resource Management) tried to do was add to this. It attempted to introduce a strategic dimension in which approaches to people management were aligned with the strategic objectives of the organisation. As the discipline evolved, we began to see a focus on what it is to actually be human. We talked about emotional intelligence, coaching, mentoring, empathy and an understanding of team dynamics. In short, we talked about things that were fundamentally different – perhaps fundamentally opposed – to the regulatory and legislative approach of Personnel. And yet we tried to retain both elements. We tried to keep the Personnel and Strategic HRM people as good bedfellows. This is what has failed. This idea that somebody might be attracted to a compliance function and suddenly becomes the right kind of person for a people centred function doesn’t work. It is wrong. It has failed us.

The answer is to simply break up the HR function. The answer is to accept that the vast majority of what HR does (Personnel) is better done by those whose focus has always been on compliance, adherence to frameworks and regulation. This stuff is really important and, the truth is, that people who are drawn to HR because of their empath tendencies, strategic thinking, and passion for human beings are generally rubbish at this stuff.

So does this mean the strategic side of HR becomes smaller? Possibly, or possibly not. Freeing this side of HR from its transactional fetters enables it to drift towards its real bedfellows: nutrition, cognitive behavioural therapy, physical fitness, meditation, lifelong learning, coaching, and qualitative, innovative approaches to enabling human beings to flourish in an increasingly digital world.

Whilst our residual (and critical) Personnel functions exist in an uncomfortable arranged marriage with our strategic HRM functions, we will continue to face criticism, effectiveness problems and a futile attempt to ‘win’ a seat at the top table. We are as different as brick layers and architects – the brick layers make things happen, but they probably don’t make good architects – and vice versa.


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