There is something about HR that always seems to attract active attention, in any discussion.  In recent years, we’ve seen articles with titles, ‘Why We Hate HR’, ‘Why We No Longer Need HR Departments’, and recently ‘It’s Time To Split HR’.

Many individuals I speak with don’t seem to think highly of HR in their organizations.  At the same time, HR professionals feel the pain on many aspects as well, including feeling that they are criticized unfairly many times.  In most places, they work hard like counterparts in other functions.

The good aspect of all this is, it shows us most people still care and have strong expectations from the HR function.

Looking at many articles, even nowadays, it looks like there is confusion regarding what the HR function exists for.  Having had the opportunity to interact and learn from many thought leaders in the consulting, academic and business worlds, the answer is simple and clear in my mind – HR ensures successful and sustainable businesses, with the right organizational capabilities.  Strategies, practices, processes, behaviors, tools and  technologies need to follow that link.

Sorry to disappoint anyone who still thinks that all of HR’s key job should be to keep all employees happy and answer all queries and requests as quickly as possible.  Some HR teams’ roles might be just that but it is important to be aware of the difference.  Overall for any HR professional, it is neither intelligent nor helpful at any level to repel employees through unprofessional behaviors.

There are some basic questions in my mind.

  • Do employees have a higher expectation from HR as it is the one function that interfaces and represents the organization (beyond their leaders) from start to end of employment?
  • Is there a higher expectation for ‘H’ from the Human Resources function but at the same time business leadership demands more and more cost based decisions?  How do HR professionals feel about ‘H’ from their stakeholders?
  • Is there a feeling that HR work at all levels is comparatively easier?  Is there deficiency of right competencies and professionals for more complex levels of HR work, that have led the HR function to be perceived as ineffective or just administrative or process centric?
  • Do HR professionals feel like they are caught in the ‘middle’? Does that lead to a general lowering of employee trust in HR professionals?

As HR professionals and leaders, it is extremely important to build clarity on the vision, outcomes and the structure/governance to deliver them, while managing expectations with key stakeholders on priorities and communicating constantly.

Leaders also have to be realistic on expectations from HR.  Many times, there is a big disconnect internally among what the leaders expect, what employees think HR needs to do and what HR thinks they have to do.  In addition to this, investments in HR development do not reflect the high expectations from leaders to support successful strategy execution.  HR sometimes appears among the last ones in the line for development.

Many times, HR professionals are frustrated that they are not listened to by their own HR leaders.  Also, here’s a humble request to please stop using the HR function as ‘holding place’ for incompetent employees that you can’t send elsewhere or don’t want to ‘let go’.  HR also should not be seen as ‘glorified assistants’ (a term heard from conversations).  There is space within HR for administrative roles but that difference has to be understood.

Spending time, understanding, influencing views and having an open dialogue with all key stakeholders is probably the first step towards addressing some of these topics with a wider audience.

The untapped potential can be realized only through support from all stakeholders, with a collaborative attitude and approach.  It goes both ways…

“Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – Martin Luther King Jr.