Viva la HR Revolution! (Or, 4 Really Good Reasons Why Not)

Yesterday I finished reading I am HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR, by Laurie Ruettimann, and I’m still in a bit of shock at this statement:

“Human Resources failed America.”

Say what?

But let’s back up a minute.

Why didn’t HR speak up?

Laurie has been writing about the workplace for years (frequently here at TLNT), and I’ve admired her style and her passion, even when I don’t agree with her viewpoint.

In other words — you know I’m a fan, girl!

But again, say what?

Ruettimann writes:

We had a financial crisis and a mortgage crisis that threw our country into a recession.

Middle-class wages remained flat while CEOs of S&P 500 Index companies made, on average, 354 times the average wage of a rank-and-file U.S. worker in 2012.

We experienced safety and environmental disasters all over the U.S. coastline that will leave an indelible mark on this country.”

And it’s all HR’s fault, because we saw the signs and wouldn’t speak up.

But Laurie has a plan and some advice for how we can reclaim HR and gain some respect from our organizational leaders in the process.

HR is in the recommendation/consultant biz

And that sounds good, I guess. But there’s just one teensy problem, in my view.

It’ll never work.

In my professional opinion … at it’s very best, HR is in the recommendation/consultant business. At it’s very best.

Put another way, on the RACI matrix of responsibility (Responsible — those who do the work to achieve the task; Accountable — those with whom “the bucks stops;” Consulted — those who provide input; and, Informed — those who should be kept in the loop), at best, HR is a C.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a “C”. A “C” is good in RACI land, but a C is not an A. And, the reality is that HR is often treated more like an I — after the fact — and if we’re lucky.

And that’s because HR doesn’t hold the power, and HR ain’t gonna get the power.

Why not? Here are four reasons why not.

1. We’re all over the place

HR is the chameleon of the service industry. We’re anything anybody needs us to be.

And while I’m not knocking versatility or flexibility, our willingness to be anything to anyone has only fueled the confusion about what the heck we do. I can’t think of a single other profession that’s as muddied as ours.

It doesn’t help that there are no real standards for practice (Sorry, HRCI). Anyone may enter into the door marked “HR,” and that’s a problem.

Bottom line, it’s hard for people to respect what they don’t understand, and thus far, HR hasn’t done a great job of educating folks, either.

2. The profession contains too many duds

(Present company excluded, of course). There’s a reason the profession has such a lousy reputation — too many HR practitioners suck at their jobs.

As I’ve mentioned before, HR is a second career for me. Before migrating to this side of the table, I worked for years as a “regular” employee, subject to the vagaries and incompetencies of HR as much as the next line staffer.

Holy moly. From misinformation about benefits to active support of unethical business practices to apathy in the face of employer abuses to flat-out stupidity, HR transgressions ran the gamut.

Now before you call me a meanie or say, “Well Crystal, every profession has its bad apples,” note that an accountant who doesn’t know a debit from a credit wouldn’t last very long in his field, but an HR “business partner” who’s completely ignorant about wage and hour laws can get by just fine in many offices because the standards are weak, and the expectations are low.

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Hmmm … I’m just saying, as a profession, we have to do much better before I can be convinced that Laurie’s vision has a snowball’s chance in hell of coming to fruition.

3. Corporate dysfunction runs deep

Face it: on the whole, our workplaces are jacked up. It’s the reason Laurie’s statement about HR failing America gave me serious pause.

HR didn’t fail America. Greed, arrogance, and stupidity failed America — again.

It’s true that many HR professionals lack courage to do the right thing when necessary, but it’s also true that many have plenty of courage.

Some of these individuals have paid the price for their convictions, too. They’ve been bullied, marginalized, ridiculed, and in extreme cases, forced out of their organizations, all because they didn’t have the power to make fundamental changes that would have made a difference.

And it’s not their fault. You can’t influence a system that’s not open to being influenced.

Such organizations don’t want what their HR folks are selling. They’re making money their way, and they don’t give a damn what HR thinks.

Let those other shmucks worry about rules, regulations, and consideration for workers. We’re getting paid. And by the way, how are the plans for that summer picnic coming along again?

4. Most HR jobs are terrible

One fun thing that Laurie does in the book is talk about HR movers and shakers — most of whom have abandoned their standard corporate gigs at this point. Why? I say it’s because a lot of HR jobs are terrible (see No. 3), and many pros have found that the way to make a mark within the profession is to in some sense leave the profession. Laurie’s own story proves that.

So hey listen. It’s not that I’m without hope. I’m indeed hopeful. (Not as hopeful as Laurie, though.)

Like I said in the very first article I ever contributed to TLNT, your employer doesn’t get to decide what type of HR practitioner you’ll be, and I believe that. Each HR professional has a circle of influence, and he or she should use it for good.

One small, positive action at a time can make a difference in the lives of those you touch. And that’s something to be proud of.

The employer chooses its HR department

But like I also said in that earlier article, the employer does get to choose its HR department, and no amount of revolution from the ranks is going to upset that balance.

But then again, maybe I’m dead wrong. Heck, I hope I am.

In the meantime, go ahead and read Laurie’s book I Am HR and form your own opinion.

I bought two copies, ‘cause I’m a fan.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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1 Comment on “Viva la HR Revolution! (Or, 4 Really Good Reasons Why Not)

  1. I’m a fan too and I bought the book, but only one copy, I must admit. I even wrote an article about it and presented Laurie’s opinions to Danish HR practioners. But I must say that I totally agree with you, Crystal. A company, any company, has the HR function, it deserves. Who recruited and hired these HR people in the first place? They sure didn’t hire themselves. The articles and surveys about ‘bad HR’ seem to forget this. Basically, I think there’s something wrong about our own organizational design, our role, our mission. We know we must be business driven, but we can’t make decisions (we’re only consultants), we know we should be data savvy, but we don’t have a budget for decent software, and we know we should be more strategic, but everyone expects us to run stupid processes. That is quite a paradox.

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