Thursday, 17 November 2011

Once upon a time there was a wicked old HR Manager ....

I recently spent some time talking with the Senior Management Team of an organisation, discussing their perceptions of HR and also what sort of service they required from HR in the future.

On a number of occasions, leaders would tell me that they had heard that it was said of HR that they were slow, inaccessible, a blocker to progress or some other negative comment. When asked for a specific example of this, the senior manager would often backtrack slightly and explain that “I haven’t found this to be the case myself, but I’ve certainly heard other people saying such things.” 

My response was (as politely as possible!) to suggest that it wasn’t particularly helpful for anyone if unsubstantiated rumours, gossip and anecdotes were passed off as if they were accurate, and that spreading such views should be contained and suppressed.

Someone far less diplomatic than I might have commented, “If you haven’t got any evidence behind your statement, then you need to shut up.”

Controlling the truth of what is said of the HR profession is a difficult challenge, particularly as such nonsense is regularly spouted about us.

Here’s an example: Yesterday, a widely circulated article asked the question “Is HR Killing Another Generation of Technology Innovation?” The article concerns a recent report in the Wall Street Journal which mentions that companies can keep track of their workers by checking their status updates on various social media sites. “When HR organizations start to use these tools to track employees and measure productivity, we have killed another generation of trust and innovation that HR should be fostering” says yesterday’s article.

So what’s the picture that we’re given? It’s one of an HR function that sneakily - or possibly formally - checks up on employees to make sure that they are in the right place at the right time and that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. It’s one of an HR function that is suspicious of the company’s employees and therefore utilises available technology to keep an eye on what they are doing. Big Bad HR, doing its normal thing of suppressing innovation and destroying the trust of its employees.

Only one problem. The original Wall Street Journal article doesn’t mention HR once. There's nothing in there at all to suggest that any such initiative is being driven by HR.

But from reading yesterday’s article, you’d be excused that this is all part of The Big Plan of HR to control a company’s employees. It’s just another example of the way that sloppy reporting starts to spread stories about HR that are far from the truth.

My plea: let’s get behind the facade of the half truths about our beloved HR function. When the stories are based on truth we need to respond. When they are based on myth, we need to expose them as such.

1 comment:

  1. Well said! I wonder if it is more insidious than that. There are times when HR is empowered and innovative, times in organisational evolution when the seat at the top table is a 'given', when the opportunity to influence strategic direction and lead debate engendering corporate change and improvement is as natural as breathing. Utopian moments, perhaps. More often, I suspect, the experience of the Human Resources' profession is to be the proverbial 'cat' kicked by other services in the manner you describe, Graham.

    Cultures, and the level of trust within them, are a function and product of leadership. As long as it remains easier in a company to blame than to do differently, HR will continue to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous management. Wherever we can, we must seize the chance to work with the bigger picture to coax the culture towards enlightenment. For those times when liberty, equality and fraternity are hostages to short term financial expediency, excellence in transactional service delivery remains under our control. Correct the misconceptions, challenge the casual prejudices, of course. But when the guillotine is being sharpened and leaders have closed their minds, the HR team can do a lot worse than stick to the knitting.