Dear HR Critics and Naysayers: If You Can’t Help, Get Out of the Way

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“If you can’t help, get out of the way.”

That’s a saying a former supervisor of mine used to say to members of my HR team when confronted with a large complex issue. Lately I have been feeling like I need to say that to so many of the writers and bloggers in the HR social media community.

The amount of criticism and skepticism about HR practices and its value are both alarming and demoralizing. To this I say — enough, and get out of the way. Make room for people who are living and breathing HR and making a difference in their respective businesses and employees daily lives.

HR, like many functions, is doing the best it can

Truth is they are more than likely the silent majority. Every day working class heroes doing the best they can with limited resources to both meet their daily tasks and help make employees experience just a little bit better.

Believe it or not these folks really exist, they work in HR as well as all other business disciplines. It’s not unique to HR folks, but just for the moment, we will stick to Human Resources.

It’s been a few years since the Fast Company article Why We Hate HR, yet it’s a recurring theme in the press. What makes this worse is many of the blog posts coming from former HR executives and alumni turned “consultants.” It’s as if by changing the title on your business card you get to go from doing the work and dealing with the challenges to being in a bubble protected from any collateral damage as long as you jump on the bandwagon and take a few shots.

As a practitioner and Chief HR officer for two major global businesses for the past decade, I think I have the experience and credibility to say “enough already!” I have the scars, and more importantly the experiences, to stake this claim.

Why not more about innovations that are happening?

My current and former HR teams work hard, solve problems, and make a difference. They know what’s expected of them from the line and are accountable. They are respected, valued, and viewed as important to the success of their respective businesses.

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None of this is just given; it is earned over time. Unfortunately, no one wants to read about ordinary folks doing what they are supposed to when they are supposed to without much fuss. Let us be honest — it’s not that interesting.

I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, but I do want to hear and learn what people are doing that is new and innovative. I want to know what works, and why, how you tested it, and what were the obstacles along the way.

There is a tremendous amount of innovative work being done out there, not just by Google but by so many folks working at small and mid-sized companies. Maybe the real issue is the people dealing with employee relations, recruiting, development and benefits, are solving problems but just don’t have the time to write about it.

I hope the offenders out there stop, look in the mirror and then quickly move over. Unless you would like to help, I am sure we could use a hand — any volunteers?

Mark Fogel is the Head of HR for Success Academy Charter Schools, New York City's fastest growing Charter School Network. He is also the Co-founder of Human Capital 3.0, a national HR advisory boutique with some very big clients. His previous experience includes gigs as a Chief HR Officer for two multinational corporations. He is also a senior adjunct professor at Adelphi’s Graduate School of Business and the recipient of several major national HR awards of distinction including the SHRM Human Capital Leader of the Year. He can be reached at:


3 Comments on “Dear HR Critics and Naysayers: If You Can’t Help, Get Out of the Way

  1. As a former HR Director, and as someone that has also consulted in HR, I commend you Mark. To be on the front line, to encourage people to continually look at what is possible and try some things new, and not dwell on the obstacles, is a challenge. During my last HR Director position, my mantra was…”we’re making progress…” It helped me keep my eye on the future, let my team know that we were striving to improve and the management and staff know that our goal was to work with them and not against them. Some days it worked better then other, but progress we did make.

  2. Great article and so clearly articulates the ugly truth. I lead an HR group and several times throughout my career have wondered whether the recipients (users) of our services have any appreciation for the continual effort we put forth. While we strive as a team, to introduce new programs that are geared towards engaging our employees, training, developing, communicating faster and more broadly, etc. etc. – we’re also needed on a day-to- day basis to firefight those problems that inevitably arise. As most HR professionals can attest to, there are days when your planned work sits untouched because you navigate through circumstances and problems that have materialized. That said, there is a great deal of satisfaction when a front line employee tells you that something the HR team introduced made a difference for them. An initiative we launched earlier this week is an online ‘Get Up & Go’ challenge. Inter-company teams are competing to adopt healthy lifestyle changes – exercise, stretching, drinking water, making healthy food choices, etc. we have 45 teams registered and the feedback has been awesome! I’m hoping that our teams stay the course – one week down, seven to go!

  3. Having spent the last 20+ years in lead HR roles in small to mid-sized companies, I have often been amazed by the HR pundits, bloggers and experts who, to me, have not spent enough time on the front lines. Ensuring HR is helping to lead an organization and culture to success is not full of a lot of flowery language, cutting edge people management solutions or innovative comp and benefits strategies…its doing the basic work with people and organizations to keep the ship pointed in the right direction. Sure every once in a while you can get a win with a new strategy or innovative idea, but mostly its about keeping legal and doing the “right” thing for your employees and helping develop good policies and good managers. Its filled with benefit renewal meetings, performance reviews and mentoring / coaching poor or new leaders on how to do better. Sometimes its even having discussions about personal hygiene or allowing employees vent or cry so they feel better and can get back to doing what they do. HR in the trenches is busy trying to do their part in making the company succeed in an ever more difficult business environment. We are often too busy to blog about it but we do read what others write. It’s not about moving the profession forward, its about making your business successful, thus keeping your employees employed and perpetuating the need for good HR leadership. Thanks for the great article and now I need to get back to work.

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