A Roundtable Discussion: If HR is So Bad … What Are YOU Doing About It?

Editor’s Note: HR pro Steve Browne runs the popular HR Roundtable in Cincinnati that is featured here at TLNT. Last month, Steve and TLNT contributor/HR Vice President Jason Lauritsen facilitated a similar session at HRevolution in Atlanta. We felt it was worth featuring here.

By Steve Browne and Jason Lauritsen

As the 2011 HRevolution sessions kicked off, Jason and Steve were stoked to be able to bring a different format to the forum as well as set the stage for being extremely intentional as HR professionals regardless of what faction the attendees represented.

The topic was: “If HR is so bad … what are YOU doing about it?”

After the obligatory introduction of the facilitators, the session began by asking the session attendees to break into small groups and answer the following two questions:

  1. Why isn’t HR respected today?
  2. How can HR be respected?

The facilitators knew a third question was coming, but they didn’t share with the group until the first two were thoroughly discussed. When the groups came back, this is what they had to share:

Why isn’t HR respected today?

  • Too many patsies and order-takers. It’s nice to start any session with a major stereotype! It sets the tone of what’s about to transpire. The fact is that this isn’t a stereotype only because HR has remained a vastly administratively driven field that tends to sit and wait for others to tell them what to do/not do. HR people who take action are often seen as threats because they are such an anomaly in the business world.
  • No original thought. This is truly a challenge, but it’s also a crutch. You could make the argument that most business thought isn’t original. It’s not just an HR thing. However, this is a stinging realization when HR continues to push out the next “best practice” or “trend” in their organizations without first questioning if it even fits their company. Mimicry is not flattery – it just shows a lack of originality.
  • HR DNA – we attract a certain “type.” Interesting that this was noted in a field that could be championing diversity in thought and approach. But again, some real truth here. People felt that a large portion of the field is made up of “sheep” leading sheep. Note that this isn’t a shepherd (leader) approach, it’s more of a compliance-focused, rule-following worker who wants to make sure people are happy at work while being risk-averse and limiting liability. (Sound familiar? Forgive the generalization). In a field that could be full of vibrant, deep-thinking radicals who push the field, the organization (SHRM), and others drastically forward, we tend to fall in the middle of the curve because it’s safer there.
  • Female-dominated profession. This just isn’t cool. In 2011, for gender to be an issue that still questions “respect” is just archaic! The fact that women are better at relationships between humans (in general) is a strength. To think that men are either better, or worse, in HR is just as ignorant. And, if the feeling is that women in HR aren’t business savvy, then we may conclude that we still sit smack dab in the middle of the Industrial Revolution.
  • HR lacks confidence and doesn’t command respect. What other field tears itself down more than HR? Can you name one? This is a sad statement that the practitioners in this great field feel like they are constantly downtrodden. If this doesn’t change, there is no possible way that HR can ever hope to earn, let alone command, respect.
  • HR is in the “bad news” business. This is a fact. Much of what HR does is dealing with the dark underbelly of organizations. The problem with this is not the work, it’s the fact that HR people keep wallowing in this mire thinking that they only do the dirty work and add no other value.
  • We want to be “liked” and praised for helping others. Whether you agree with this or not, being “liked” is not a business competency. Part of this feeling may be that HR seeks affirmation on good things because they do handle the dark side of human behavior so often. However, this isn’t high school. Relationships are built on action – not desire.
  • Try to make every priority a top priority. You can also call this the “house is burning!” syndrome. HR people get flustered when people are creepy. They can tend to be knee jerk and overreact to emotions that are flying around instead of asking for calm and looking to be consistent. This approach just isn’t possible and it’s senseless to try it.
  • People are more proud to be in HR than being in “Business.” This is unfortunate, but true. HR people will dive on the martyrdom sword to defend that they are in HR and they expect others to be empathetic to this. They aren’t. Steve has contended for years that people need to be in Business and practice HR. Every other field does this and HR is sorely overdue to catch up in this effective way to add value to organizations.

How can HR be respected?

  • Be the business. We know this is the opposite of the prior answer, but it’s a much deeper issue than you think. HR has to be as integral to the success of the business as every other department. This has to be the rule and not the exception. Also, if you want to be honest, this is the “at the table” reality that HR has been elusively striving for over the past decade. HR needs to buck up and join the band. Those that do will dominate the field going into the future!
  • Outsource things HR shouldn’t be doing. Amen and amen! (reference the gospel choir that sang during our session) Outsourcing is not a dirty word. The aspects of HR that are highly administrative and/or irrelevant need to go to companies who have chosen to do this work and do it well.
  • Understand how HR’s work drives the business. This is different than the point listed above. HR needs to position itself in this new role by showing how their work does drive the business. One tenet to remember is this: Ask senior management which departments in the organization have people. When they state “all of them do,” then HR needs to jump because since we lead the human factor of companies, you have a platform to build upon to integrate HR throughout. This isn’t the P&L/ROI/etc. argument. Those are facts in running any business. HR needs to live the business case it can perform to by showing how processes work through people – not in spite of them.
  • Build relationships with all levels in the company – especially senior leaders. This is the great “get off the sideline” charge! The truth is that this can’t be a desire anymore. It has to be a fact. If HR people are more concerned with their desks, their social media presence and brand, and their yearning to be liked then in developing viable, sustainable relationships, then they will disappear. That’s the cold, hard fact. Without meaningful relationships, HR will continue to churn as it has for decades.
  • Get out in the business (physically). Be where people are. It’s pretty simple, but HR needs to be visible where the work is occurring and not just sit in some office or cubicle dictating the next HR policy or procedure. Be the “H” in HR! This needs to stop even coming up at conferences. It is such a basic benchmark of great HR that it has to be part of our fabric and no longer just talk.
  • Get connected! The idea that HR can remain as this field of isolationists is outdated. For those of us who are connected, i.e. HRevolution attendees, don’t think that the greater HR community hears a word you are saying. Don’t make the assumption that the great work that’s being done on Twitter, blogs, blog radio, etc. is making this giant impact on the greater HR community. We have to come to terms that excited as we are about being connected, it’s time to reach out to those around us who aren’t connected. This is more than giving people a #FF. This is being intentional and making sure that all HR folks are learning how they can make themselves, their roles and their companies better!

So, what are YOU going to do?

Jason and Steve ended their session with a challenge.

Coming to conferences (traditional and Un) are great, but if people don’t take a stand and do something significantly different, it’s just another set of people talking passionately in a vacuum.

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Each person was asked to stand and state what they planned to do differently in action (not write a blog post) to move HR forward in their circle of influence. There were some really compelling answers that people gave, and it was so encouraging to hear that people not only wanted to participate in this session, but they wanted to see HR get better through their efforts.

So, as you read this summary, we ask — WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO CHANGE HR ??

Do us a favor and e-mail us. We’d love to hear from you as well as compile the great things that people are going to do. Who knows, your answer may inspire others?

Don’t blow this off. Don’t let it pass you by either. If you do, don’t expect different results in HR!

This discussion came from a session at last month’s HRevolution conference in Atlanta.

Steve Browne, SPHR, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana with 18 locations and over 1,400 team members. He blogs at Everyday People , and you can contact him at sbrowne@larosas.com. Jason Lauritsen is the Vice President of Human Resources at Union Bank and Trust in Omaha, Nebraska. He blogs at Transforming Business through Talent and can be contacted at jason.lauritsen@gmail.com.


3 Comments on “A Roundtable Discussion: If HR is So Bad … What Are YOU Doing About It?

  1. This discussion was my runaway favorite at HRevolution. If I went to no other session, it still would have been worth the trip.

  2. I had a role model of what HR should be when I worked at The Bon Marche’ (now Macys) in the Pacific Northwest.  Ed Cooney was the VP of HR for the company and made HR respected and an important division of the company.  You can even read a bit of what he was about in the book “Guts” by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg when the company launched the very successful BONlife initiative in the early 2000s. 

  3. What struck me the most within this post was the line that referenced: HR people need to be business people first or something along those lines…. This is something I have positioned myself to be for many years. My approach is to understand the business I’m in first and foremost; all else will follow!  I must go to the next HRevolution conference next time. Thanks for sharing!

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