Thoughts On “Stop Bashing HR”

by Sharlyn Lauby on March 6, 2012

Harvard Business Review posted an article titled “Stop Bashing HR”. It’s a very interesting read – especially several of hr, human resources, strategic thinking, strategic HR, talent, consultingthe comments. So interesting in fact, I can’t resist adding my own thoughts to the conversation.

One of the things that struck me about the HBR article was the title. As a human resources pro, I’ve never in my career had to ask anyone to quit bashing my department. If someone criticized HR, we either:

  1. Deserved it and fixed the issue, or
  2. Explained our position and usually found some common ground.

I hate to say it but it seemed rather odd to read a “quit bullying human resources” article. HR should be able to stick up for itself.

That being said, if there’s a whole lot of HR bashing going on, HR pros should ask themselves who’s doing the bashing. We will never make everyone happy. So are the bashers that percentage of the population who will always be grousing about HR? Or are they people who want to see HR succeed and are dispensing their own version of tough love?  Oh, there’s also one other category –the faction of people who want to ridicule HR for entertainment purposes or as a marketing tactic. Those people have their own agenda and we should probably just forget about them as serious discussion.

Once the “who” has been defined, then ask “why”. What’s the gripe with HR? If you believe the HBR article, it’s the classic “HR isn’t strategic enough” excuse. I’m starting to wonder about the validity of this argument. Hear me out. Why would any successful business wait 15+ years for their HR department to become strategic? Seriously?! No successful business would wait 15+ years for their sales department to become strategic.

If you want strategic HR and don’t currently have it, then by all means go get it. It exists. There are plenty of companies,  consultants, and people looking for work who can deliver strategic human resources. And any good strategic HR professional will pay for themselves – whether it’s on your payroll or via consulting. After all, that’s the best strategy.

I do agree with the author of the HBR piece that organizations are facing some of the most challenging talent issues ever.  And it’s only going to get tougher. But I don’t think the answer is just an edict that everyone should “be nice to HR”. The profession needs to step up to the challenges ahead and know that if they don’t, their company will react accordingly.

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carlos e March 6, 2012 at 8:01 am

Couldn’t agree more.

Never shut down the feedback loop…ever.

You may not like what you hear, but at least your detractors are willing to share their thoughts. Embrace the challenge, and address it. It’s what we’re supposed to do!

Tina March 6, 2012 at 11:03 am

I have similar experiences the HBR article addressed and I forwarded the article to a colleague because we both related to this article. It is difficult to be a partner when you are excluded from operational meetings and strategic planning. I worked with the a team of extremely talented HR professionals and each of us experienced this including the HR executive. Unfortunately, I do believe it happens more frequently now due to the stress of being profitable due to the economic downturn. I support HBR’s perspective.

Sharlyn Lauby March 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm

@Carlos – Thanks for the comment. I totally agree about the importance of feedback.

@Tina – Thank you for sharing your experience. Not sure what actions you’ve taken or if this will help. But, when I’ve been faced with being excluded from things, I’ve used those as opportunities for feedback. I’ve met with my boss and asked why – not in a defensive tone – but because I think I can add value to the conversation. I was able to use the feedback I received to increase the value of my role and the HR department.

Chris Young March 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm

As a consultant who often works with HR and senior executives, I have seen both extremes… Some HR professionals are some of the most strategic-minded people and others are some of the least strategic-minded. I find the larger companies have the more “strategic” HR people. Why is that? I believe it is because of the competitive pressures to company faces and the costs of getting HR wrong. Smaller companies are not usually transparent like larger and publicly-held companies. Smaller companies put up with more mediocrity in HR. That’s just my opinion based upon my experiences.

Bashing any profession for sport or marketing is obviously not right. Yet, one must always be seeking to learn how one can improve the services they deliver. Fast feedback loops never killed anyone.

If HR wants to be included at operational meetings and strategic planning activities then they must make themselves indispensable – the “obvious choice” as a real partner. Expecting or demanding a seat at the table is not going to earn HR respect.

My guess… Is the very people who are most concerned about the “bashing” of HR are the ones who need the most help. The HR professionals that truly “get it” – they are too busy solving real problems and creating real value to care what others think.

Sharlyn Lauby March 7, 2012 at 11:27 am

Thanks for sharing your perspective Chris. I’m not sure if I completely agree with the larger company = more strategic thought. I’ve seen some larger companies lose their strategic edge because of bureaucracy (and corporate politics). But that’s a conversation we can have over a big cup of coffee.

I do agree that HR needs to show what they bring to the party. No one is going to invite HR.

Samantha32 March 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Challenge is always in our side to test how good we are in different factors, this is a great way for attaining new success in life in learning new things…
Samantha32 recently posted..Vision Quest 2012 Generation Compasion

Pat @ Occupational Health Services March 16, 2012 at 8:50 am

The feedback loop is so important so that we know what we are doing our jobs right and looking out for our fellow employees. Witch companies looking inwardly at ways to streamline their businesses and cutting costs to protect their business I guess the HR team come off as the bad guy but cutting costs doesn’t mean you have to be the bad guy if you keep the feedback loop open and find out what is most important to the employees i.e. health insurance over a Christmas bonus or pay rise.

Rick Rossignol March 17, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I spent 25 years running HR and now as a consultant. I found that it is more about how you communicate with the senior staff. I never used the words you can not do that. The fastest way to have the senior staff all lined up at the CEO”s office is to tell them they can not run their department. HR becomes the reason they are not meeting the business goal. Changing the conversation to what is the best business decision, converts the senior team into partners. Knowing I am going to do whatever they want but they are responsible. It is really about speaking the language that the CEO and CFO understand… I used to have the first conversation with the CEO or CFO and get them buy in to the company decision. My question to the CEO is a very simple one, How big of a check are you willing to write?

Sharlyn Lauby March 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm

@Pat – Totally agree about the feedback loop. Thanks for the comment.

@Rick – Thanks for sharing! I learned a long time ago that the first question to ask is “What do you want to do?”

Sean May 1, 2012 at 11:57 am

I think often times a business fails to see the monetary value in a strong HR department and considers it a necessary not a asset. I have worked in businesses where this is the case, as well as businesses where HR was outstanding. I agree with one of the previous comments, HR can stand up for it self, whether the HR department is well run or not has nothing to do with HR, and everything to with the specific location.
Sean recently posted..5 Questions To Ask Employees During an Interview

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