The Human Resources department has a professional image that is less than satisfactory, and it doesn’t seem to be improving.
First up was research released by the CIPD, which suggested that HR’s often overly bureaucratic approach was getting in the way of building trust between employees and managers within organizations. Too many rules and regulations, it seems, are giving people the impression that the business doesn’t trust them to do their jobs.
HR Zone stirred the debate further by publishing a thread from the social sharing site Reddit, which if taken at face value, illustrates that employees don’t respect HR’s ability to hire (and fire) the right people and feel it definitely isn’t on their side.
Add to this outpour of recent surveys accusing the HR profession of lacking business intelligence and being hopelessly out of touch. With this kind of feedback, it’s amazing that more HR people haven’t given up hope.
There are, of course, many HR professionals out there who are doing a fantastic job, but there’s no doubt HR is often perceived in a negative light. So what can the profession do to prove they now how to be successful in HR?
Build your personal brand
HR people often don’t stand out as key players in organizations. They are typically seen as the enablers, rather than the drivers of initiatives and as a result their contribution gets overlooked. Writing in a recent Ashridge Business School blog, Gerry Miles suggests that “there comes a time in all HR leaders’ lives when they need to stand up and be counted”. It’s all too easy, he says, to hide behind a facade of being the ‘coach’ to the organization. Senior executives want to know if you have what it takes to be regarded as their equal. On a practical level, building your brand in the business means everything from developing the right relationships and getting your voice heard at senior level to keeping your professional profile in high regard both within and outside the workplace—this can be done by contributing to industry panels, attending and speaking at conferences, blogging about current HR issues, etc. It’s an area that HR people are often uncomfortable with, but those who are prepared to invest time in developing their personal brand will find that the respect and authority they command will quickly grow.
Develop processes that are enablers not blockers
Organizations have to have policies and procedures, but in an effort to keep the wheels running smoothly, HR can sometimes go overboard on bureaucracy. As a result, managers get frustrated when they can’t get information quickly or are not allowed to manage their teams in the way they want to. People feel controlled rather than empowered and quickly lose enthusiasm when they find their bright ideas or out of the box thinking is stifled by a rigid approach to ‘the way we do things around here’. The CIPD’s research on ‘Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders’ suggests that too many rules and regulations create environments where individuals at all levels have little opportunity to earn trust by showing they can be reliable. The key is to build processes that bring consistency to the way people are managed, but give managers the flexibility to manage their teams in a way that works best for them.
Focus on the right things
We’ve all worked in organizations where an initiative push has taken hold. Sometimes, there are so many new initiatives and processes going on that by the time they’ve completed, no one can actually remember what they were meant to achieve in the first place. HR needs to get back to basics and make sure it is focusing on the right things. It needs to be about making sure people-related issues are at the top of the agenda and developing the approaches and processes that will help the organization deliver its objectives. HR also needs to get better at challenging ideas and interventions that it can see will be a distraction or are not the right way forward. Too many people in the profession are ‘pleasers’ – going along with initiatives because they want to keep everyone happy.
In an ambiguous and constantly changing business environment, HR people can’t afford to remain static. If professionals are to earn the respect of their peers, they need to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the wider world of work, in the industry they work in and within HR. This doesn’t have to mean going on expensive training courses. It’s about reading the professional press, attending HR conferences and events to stay on track with the best people management practices; network with other leaders in the field and start a discourse about trends that are affecting the field. HR also needs to be more curious about and engaged with what’s happening in its own organization. There’s no substitute for getting out from behind the desk, talking to people and developing a relationship with the employees.
Take the lead on technology
Not taking full advantage of technology at hand is one of the biggest HR criticisms. HR software has come a long way in recent years making sophisticated, cost-effective systems like Cezanne HR are within reach for most companies. These systems have the potential to reduce administration, cut costs, streamline processes and give up-to-date data needed to inform business decisions. Many HR professionals have been slow to embrace this technology, often because they don’t understand it or mistakenly think it will be more time consuming and expensive to implement than their current system. Research has shown the profession is particularly suspicious of some of the internal social media tools that becoming more popular and has failed to recognize the important role they can play in improving communication, driving innovation and creating engagement.
HR needs to be more active in introducing systems that can enhance performance and productivity across the business.
What do you think? Are these criticisms of HR fair? What else can the profession do to improve its image?