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Bash HR

We are at it again. It’s time to bash HR. Ever since the article Why we hate HR appeared, every now and then someone wakes up and thinks they can bash HR. The July issue of Harvard Business Review was dedicated to HR. But it wasn’t bashing at all. It pointed out the lack of influence HR has. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of HR bullshit around. But there’s a lot of business bullshit around as well. And there are a lot of things HR is doing right.
It’s not my intention to point back the finger to other functions. In my career I have been responsible for other areas than HR and what I have to conclude is that everyone is looking for answers to the challenges and disruptions of today. And I also have to conclude that there are fads and fashions in every area.
Just like any other function or business area HR wants to justify its existence. In its history we have moved from personnel management, to human relations, to human resources, to human capital, … But the question if these denominations are important. Just like every business function we need to get to the core and cut the waste we are carrying.
And then I came across this post on Linkedin by Dominique Voss, HR Manager at Merck in Belgium:
HR people

HR is about People

I don’t think she’s alone in thinking that HR is about people. In essence we are here to make the people process within organizations work. Said in a negative way, if everything runs well HR is obsolete.
However, in a positive way, HR can help organisations cope with the VUCA-world knowing that it’s people and only people who will innovate, implement strategy, sell, deliver service, …
Knowing that everything has to (?) go faster, leaner, better, … it’s only by getting the people challenge right that we will be(come) competitive. The core question is  how we can create a context that makes people successful. So there you go, there’s the challenge.

Are we doing a good Job?

Are we doing a good job?

  • Probably not. Only 13% of people is engaged.
  • Is that the fault of HR? No.
  • Can HR do something about it? Yes.
  • Can HR do it alone? No.

You get the HR you deserve.

Do we really need to hate HR? It depends. Every company gets the people process it deserves. Too many companies limit the people management process to lip service, window dressing, transactional tit-for-tat, …

The way forward.

  1. Let’s start with a detail. Let’s get rid of the name HR. Let’s talk about people. I have taken on the title of chief people officer as a way to state what I see as the future of the function formerly known as HR. Check out this blog.
  2. Then, let’s really talk about people and focus on them. Let’s not only focus only on the active elements (competencies, productivity, …) but let’s include the entire person.
  3. Let’s understand that we need to be humble. We cannot solve everything. We cannot do it alone.
  4. Let’s understand that People Management is a process, not a function or department. Many people are involved. But there are people within companies that focus on the people process.
  5. Let’s define the role we need to play within organisations. In the future there are 5 roles: Architect, Expert, Coach, Data Strategist and Advocate. You can read about them here.
  6. If we understand it’s in essence about creating a context in which people can be successful both in life as in business, we are on the way.
  7. If it’s about context we need to focus on culture, leadership, behaviour. How much time do we spend on that?
  8. HR needs to review some of its processes. One important example is performance management. People are usually not engaged by this process. We need to get it right or stop it.
  9. HR can play a vital role in creating value for the customers. Customers meet people. And it’s the performance of the people that makes the difference, even in the age of digitalisation. The brand of a company stands or falls with the behaviour of the people delivering the service, manufacturing the products.
  10. To do all that, HR needs to focus on Leadership. HR is leadership. Leadership is HR.
  11. HR can make a difference by focusing on work. People come to work. It would be best to make sure work is adapted to their needs, strengths, ambitions. Customise work where possible. Leave the standard. Have the courage to make exceptions.
  12. HR Analytics will help, but will not “save” HR. There’s a lot of little data in HR. But using it to check progress, evaluate programs, … is necessary.
  13. And cut the crap. Forget about the jargon. Stand close to the business and the people. Loose everything that could confuse. HR is not rocket science. Keep it as simple as possible.

There’s a lot of work to do. But let’s not bash HR. Let’s not hate it. Let’s create a people process we are worthy of. You get the HR you deserve. HR gets the company it deserves. Does HR needs to be saved? I don’t think so.
David Ducheyne

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.


  • David,
    lees mee deze prachtige posting van Pete Foley op LinkedIn zonet, en, en passant , ook mijn commentaar :
    Quand “Les grands esprits se rencontrent” …:-)

  • Michael Jakob says:

    I like the fact keep it simple… We have to keep it simple in policy, process and execution. But we like standards. We tend to “one size fits all”! Yes, HR is about people and we all know there is no one like the other, nevertheless standards are squeezing people into one model – it can not work
    HR needs innovation for handling people instead of implementing standards.

  • Before blaming HR for everything we need to understand HR. You pointed out really well the role of HR, and the company, as a whole, needs to assume this position. HR does not need to be saved, just approached as it truly is.

  • Beth M says:

    Hi David, Thanks for the list – I’m interested in #5 and how you picked those roles. I’m currently reading Dave Ulrich’s 2012 book “HR from the outside in” and there is some overlap between the 4-6 roles he lists for HR people and you – however he has a basic premise that you don’t touch on, that it is an HR role to be aware and active in understanding the business of the industry that the professional is in (so for me, I need to understand the construction business, since that is the org I practice HR in).
    What do you think? Are there other roles for HR in the future?

    • Beth, I think being aware of the business you’re in is not a role. It’s a condition. You cannot execute any of those roles if you’re not sufficiently immersed. HR is business. And business is also about people. The roles should not be confused with competencies or skills. You need competencies and knowledge to fulfil them well.

  • Michiel Crommelinck says:

    I see some interesting parallels between your post on HR and stimulating innovation in large organizations. In my opinion, corporate innovation is often about the people and about creating the right context. A focus on culture, leadership, behavior, and a fast & simple innovation process is also important in that regard.

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