23 Comments

Scrap H.R?


Earlier this week I phoned a blogtalk radio show hosted by Paul Parris called the ex-recruiter show. Nothing unusual in that but the guest, HR Fishbowl, who I was really impressed with, got me thinking.  Is the real problem with H.R. that it is thought of as a Dept rather than a function?

I should point out this is NOT the view of HRFishbowl. I was listening to comments and reading tweets aimed at the HR Dept and not the function of HR.

Listening to callers, and recollecting a PunkRockHR blog,, post #TruLondon entitled “What I learnt at #Trulondon,”containing the comments:

1; Recruiters hate H.R.

2: H.R. hate Recruiters.

It struck me that this kind of thinking, which i’m very familiar with, could be at the heart of the issues that arise. From where I’m sitting, the solution could be to radically change our approach to H.R. delivery and responsibility.

At risk of provoking a fatwa from H.R. practitioners globally, I’m going to ask the question. Should we scrap H.R. Departments all together and replace them with an H.R.culture that embraces the whole of the organisation and is the responsibility of everyone?

Let me outline some of the thoughts behind my thinking:

1: If we believe, (and we should), that people are the most important ingredient of a companies success, then shouldn’t everyone at every level be concerned about human relations, and not one department?

 2; Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of every leader in the organisation to ensure a company operates within the law and ethically, and not have an over reliance on H.R. to act as policeman?

3; Shouldn’t H.R..issues be firmly “on the table” rather than H.R. practitioners trying to force their way to “the table” as we so often hear?

4: Should the culture of the company allow for the continuous development of people by whoever is the best practitioner of the area of interest? Does having a training dept hamper Managers taking responsibility for the development of their people?

5; Should hiring be one of the core responsibilities of the Managers, along with reviews, appraisals and all the other people tasks that get passed to the H.R. Dept?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti H.R. I just wonder if the existence of H.R. Depts gives the organisation the opportunity to adopt a “not my job” attitude  The problem as I see it, is that H.R. is thought of as a department, and not as an integral function and responsibility of the organisation as a whole. If the Dept got scraped, and functions like payroll got absorbed in to accounting, would the H.R. agenda as a whole be taken more seriously?

I’m not giving answers or views, at the moment I have only questions. Please leave a comment and shoot me down, or better still, come to #truUSA in Madison on 18th/19th april, when I will be raising this in the future of H.R. track.

Be ambassadors for great H.R. whatever your job!

23 comments on “Scrap H.R?

  1. How about scrap HR and recruiters, we’ll all just blog about it instead ;-)

    Seriously, with social media bringing people closer there is an opportunity to automate big part of the recruitment process and some folks in HR and recruitment will be inevitably be scrapped.

    The best advice for anyone in HR would be to go up the value chain and drive things instead of being driven out by technology.

  2. Agree Bill. My organisation has scrapped the HR and Training labels. We’ve reinvented ourserlves as People, Performance and Culture. And before you laugh, we really have reinvented ourselves and are getting much more respect and traction as a result. We’re much more integral than we were when simply “HR”.

  3. You sound like Laurie Ruettimann now, which is not a bad thing. Are you owned by any cats? Do you love bacon?

    Seriously, good companies are doing this already. There are some things missing in your equation tho – the functional administrivia, and areas of specialized expertise – like legal or labor relations or comp/benefits.

    You are not mad – just dreaming of shangri-la! Keep up the deep thinking, and I can’t wait to discuss this in the Future of HR track which I will be one of the co-leaders for.

    I have a new post on TRU USA today btw, including an offer for a free ticket if anyone is interested!

  4. Real good post Bill – I think it appears that people are thinking this way.
    I’m not sure in this world of people suing their employer for colour of their socks or the shape of the office window, that HR can totally be scrapped – HR provides a good multi-functional legal support function to a business of significant size and saves the cost of external legal experts – whilst maintaining a beneficial employment adminstration function under one roof.

    But the points about where senior management and line management are concerned; certainly in relation to recruiting, training, career development; are spot on. HR often merely provide a process management service in recruitment – and the Directors and line managers should be more empowered in this area to select and coordinate.

  5. A very thought provoking post, Bill.

    I agree with you people are at the heart of every organisation. People are the brand and are the strongest brand ambassadores for any organisation,

    So everybody it’s in everybody’s interest to think about it and act upon it.

    I agree with the other commentators that an HR department is still needed for all the labour relations, legal advice, organisational development,

    Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile call to all organizations to rethink their approaches and structures and to become truly people centric and people driven.

  6. Yeah, let’s do it!

    Ok, not really. I was on a train back from London last year. I had a chat with the man next to me and he asked me what I did. When I told him I worked for a HR publication, he immediaitely said: “I hate HR.” That’s a pretty strong statement, I said, and asked him why he felt this way.

    He explained that he felt that since HR came into organisations, line management has been neglecting their responsibilities to their people and behaving badly, knowing HR would have to deal with the consequences rather than the managers taking responsibility themselves to mange their people fairly and well.

    I hope that this isn’t widespread, but I recognise this is the way it’s been perceived – and you’re seeing it too. Employers seem to take the attitude that employees aren’t really people – and it’s HR that does the ‘people’ stuff.

    So, looking at point one: I agree that every department, every manager, should have an interest in HR – although not necessarily an academic interest. What I mean is an interest in people, in motivating people and in getting the best out of them.

    On point two, yes, although I admit it’s difficult for everyone to keep up to date with everything – employment law can be a demanding animal! However the basics should be known by everyone, even if it’s only to protect themselves.

    For point three my comment is simply yes. In some organisations, however, HR have alienated themselves so effectively that they have gone backwards from the ‘table’. The recession hasn’t helped. For many employees a meeting with HR can only mean one thing – you haven’t got a job anymore. HR has a long way to go towards shedding this image.

    Four – absolutely. This comes up again and again; unwanted training is forced on people who know they don’t need it because they know they are above that level – but HR don’t realise or care about this and spend the money on it anyway. Employee then feels undervalued, as well they might, and this ‘development’ only develops into disengagement.

    Meanwhile the rest continue doing their roles with no training whatsoever, making do and feeling uninvested in. When training goes bad…

    The people who know best what kind of training they need are the employees themselves which is how ‘time to train’ a piece of UK legislation giving all employees the right to request time off for training which came into force on 6 April may help – because it will give a focus to employers and employees alike as to what is wanted by employees. That’s the hope anyway.

    In point 5: what I feel you are describing here Bill is exactly what some HR practitioners have already discovered and are passing this responsibility on – an idea to which some managers are very resistant, claiming it’s HR’s job.

    I have met great managers, however, who totally ‘get’ it. The point is that HR skills and HR people are not less needed – they are just needed throughout the organisation and supporting the organisation, rather than working apart from the rest of the organisation.

    I know some people believe in invisible HR but I think proactive HR is better – where HR isn’t a hiring/firing machine you should dread a meeting with but is involved in every process, making workplaces great and fair places to work and your business an employer of choice.

  7. Some very interesting points raised there, Bill!

    I think the argument for HR to continue to exist as a separate department is stronger than ever.

    Many companies certainly need to “radically change [their] approach to HR delivery and responsibility”; and the notion of an “HR culture” becoming embedded into the overall organisational culture is a very welcome one. But in both cases, these represent opportunities for HR departments to increase their influence and organisational centrality, rather than reasons why HR departments should be abolished.

    The experience of the recession illustrates why HR departments remain vital – and are arguably proving more vital than ever. Latest XpertHR benchmarking research on HR roles and responsibilities in 2010 (discussed here: http://www.xperthr.co.uk/article/100322/hr-roles-and-responsibilities–the-2010-irs-survey.aspx) finds that HR departments have become increasingly influential over the past two years, “not least because ongoing restructuring and redundancies have required the expertise of HR, and therefore its influence has increased.” And one respondent to the survey told us that – as a direct result of the challenges posed by the recession – “HR is a much more integral part of the business than it ever was, as managers have finally realised our value.”

    The recession is hopefully now behind us (but there could yet be a sting in the tail, with a double-dip remaining a distinct possibility). But strong opportunities remain for HR departments further to extend their influence.

    Moving on to the idea of “scrapping HR departments altogether and replacing them with an HR culture that embraces the whole organisation and is the responsibility of everyone”: a fascinating concept, but wouldn’t this ultimately require the creation of a single, centralised department within each organisation to ensure that the HR culture was consistently and correctly adhered to, and to keep abreast of latest and upcoming compliance issues? And indeed, who would ensure that the HR culture was maintained when harsh economic conditions force organisations to focus primarily on their very survival (such as during a recession)? It sounds like something very closely resembling an HR department would be called for!

    But all this said, I’m extremely interested in the “People, Performance and Culture” model mentioned by NZHRGuy. Just how radical was the reinvention involved? And do you think the concept will catch on in other organisations?

    Once again, great post Bill, and very thought-provoking. I’ll be interested to see how the debate unfolds!

  8. [...] “Should we scrap HR departments altogether and replace them with an HR culture that embraces t… (external website). This is a question posed in a fascinating new blog post from recruitment consultant (and organiser of TRULondon) Bill Boorman. [...]

  9. Mostly agree with all of the other comments. In a perfect world, managers at all levels in the organization would see the value in talent management (what the cool kids call HR in 2010) in general. Problem is, unless senior leadership tie part of every manager’s performance (read: compensation) to it, they’re going to be more motivated to focus on their core business. Further, we’ll always need specialists to keep current on regulations and innovative processes and technologies, and the typical line manager simply won’t be able to do that. So no, we can’t scrap HR. Not really.

    We CAN, however, encourage a more holistic approach to people management. We can create policies and processes through which managers are held accountable the development and success of their people. We can foster environments wherein making people successful is just as important as generating revenue. And shockingly, we’ll make more money because of it if we’re successful.

    Your point is valid in that the old way of looking at things has to die. Preferably in a violent, messy, entertaining fashion.

  10. Addendum:

    HR professionals also need to get the hell out of the way sometimes. To Charlie’s point above, some operators hate HR because they don’t appear to add value. On the contrary, they make it harder for managers to get things done, they bitch and moan about making everyone feel good, and they frequently say things like “You just can’t do that” without a good reason. HR pros who don’t realize that they are there to support a business and make things happen need to croak with the old way of doing things as well.

  11. I do think there’s a case for scrapping HR (I got quite excited by the title of this post actually) – the same case applies to scrapping internal comms and many other support functions. I’m a big believer in managers, and employees for that matter, becoming self-sufficient and more accountable in people skills, communication, finance etc. Also, with sophisticated tools and social communication techniques, many processes are now being automated, so less need for the grunt work/admin needed to support employees.

    However, I do still think there’s a case for maintaining a set of experts, who are on hand to partner the business. Managers can’t be expected to be an expert in everything – and, obviously, time prohibits being able to do everything. But, it’s vital that these ‘partners’ are business savvy in order that this partnership delivers high value.

    So, maybe it’s not ‘scrap’ but more ‘de-clutter’ :)

  12. If the true purpose of a business is to make money, then shouldn’t we all be able to make money. Why not scrap Finance?

    If the true purpose of a business is to design products, then shouldn’t we able be able to design products and scrap R&D?

    Would youseriously suggest any of the above?

    This is typical of the beffudled thinking that is all pervading in HR. I would go on, but I’ve said it so many times before that my fingers are now mere stumps…..

  13. I think Charlie hit the nail on the head when he described how a stranger announced that “He hates HR”. And I hear this a lot. When I unpick this statement, it’s because they’ve been given some poor advice, or were treated badly at some point by the HR Dept. What we need is HR practitioners striving to deliver a high quality service, who also understand how productive it can be when working with high quality recruiters. In this ideal world, we wouldn’t need this debate.

  14. This post is really about changing the name as much as anything. And its a debate that goes round and round.

    the fact is that most organisations get the HR function they deserve. And we only called it HR in a bid to make it less soft or peoply, and make it much more hard core and commercial in a vain attempt to get ‘closer’ to the action.

    The problems with HR (or people management or whatever you want to call it) in organisations rest not with HR, but with the leadership. As many imply here, we could do without HR, or other internal ‘support’ functions like internal comms as Abi suggests, but it wont happen until a fundemental shift occurs in the type of leaders we have. And that, sadly, is probably a generation away.

    Many organsitions who have never had formal HR seem to do nicely without it. And many who have cant seem to get rid of it. I think that tess you something.

    Time for some fresh debate. Not about HR, because thats pointless. But about leadership and the muppets who currently run organisations and who, generally, forget that an organisations success is all about the people in it, and not their own financial/economic/marketing prowess.

  15. Enjoying what remains a hot topic for the community. In my opinion, great HR strategists are embedded in the departments they support and are already teaching the departments to handle the leadership issues they should already be handling. The transactional HR must remain in an actual HR department though because without that, the organization will be in a world of hurt from a legal standpoint. I spend much of my time trying to clean up messes so that managers don’t make a misstep on the laws.

    My true vision is rebranding HR. I wrote about it last Sept: http://hrringleader.com/2009/09/22/making-the-rubber-hit-the-road-re-branding-hr/

  16. [...] Friday I read a blog post by you (you can find that post here).  I didn’t agree with either your original post or some of the comments that were made in [...]

  17. The problem that most employees see with HR is that it functions primarily to protect the company and not help the “little guy”.

    • It is true that HR functions primarily to protect the company, but what employees miss is that this does not mean solely defending management to employees, but should also involve standing up to management about mistreating employees.

      This typically happens behind the scenes so is often unappreciated.

      As to the general idea of scrapping HR, with the best will in the world, my experience of line managers is that the majority have no interest in ‘people’ issues and just want to concentrate ‘on their actual job’, which doesn’t involve looking after employees in their minds.

      This means that, until there is a significant cultural shift within the UK, HR is vital to keep educating managers about how to manage their people and picking up the pieces when someone does something stupid through ignorance.

  18. Great post and interesting commentary. My view is that HR’s role should be to to gradually empower line managers with tools, techniques and skills to really manage their staff. So no we should not scrap HR depts, but we should re-skill HR so they can empower line managers. When this is achieved HR as a function will be much smaller and specialised and many organisations are already on this path. To transform organisations, first HR needs to transform itself. If it stays still, then like Bill, I think HR will be subsumed by other functions.

  19. [...] of discussion and agonising. This debate raged again recently following an interesting blog from Bill Boorman entitled ‘Scrap HR’ which elicited the usual range of responses from the nodding agreement of non regular HR [...]

  20. [...] you believe HR should exist or not – a debate recently covered here by Bill Boorman – we currently do.  And in the meantime the profession would do itself a lot of favours if it [...]

  21. [...] wrote a blog post about a month ago titled “scrap HR?.” This provoked quite a lot of comment on both sides of the fence. Generally, the recruiters [...]

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