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  • Writer's picturePhil Marsland

Organisations get the HR that they deserve

Last night I was eating goat and talking HR. Mention of both stirs certain emotions and both leave a certain taste in the mouth – and its not all good. More about the goat burger later, but for now let’s talk HR, just as I was doing a few hours ago with Mark Gilroy, MD of a psychometric and training business.

As soon as someone says ‘HR’ you get a reaction. An emotional, experiential, baggage filled reaction. For some, it’s about the sour taste in the mouth that their HR encounters left them with. For others, this will be about positive, people centric contributions to organisations, but I suspect that this is not for many.

Most think of the HR police as the out of touch department, costing not contributing. Often getting in the way. The polar opposite of Feel Good Inc. So how did the well-intentioned Workers Welfare founded by Joseph Rowntree get here? How did HR become an unappealing badge?

My discussion with Mark swirled around HR, psychology and neuroscience, and about how not enough has been done to help leaders and their organisations to really understand people and how to get the best out of them.

We talk about how HR has fallen for latest fads and surveys, displaying knee jerk reactions every time they hear the phrase “best practice”, lumbering organisations with process, complexity and box filling, type casting about Gen X, or such like. We talk about work and workplaces being where people should thrive and grow and contribute and achieve and be recognised and rewarded.

These are fresh insights from our careers and from challenging our own thinking. Personally, I didn’t always think like this. I was quite literally the HR Police! My career started in prison – the right side of the bars – in a classic ‘personnel role’ – keeping records, processing pay, chasing sick notes, doing disciplinaries, telling people that they can’t do things – thrilling stuff huh?!

Then I discovered HR. And I studied, gained CIPD qualifications and accreditation, and progressed into different roles in the public and private sectors. I thought that I was doing good. I enjoyed the HR badge.

But gradually I started to notice a few things. Little things. Like work colleagues changing the tone of the conversation when I arrived, actually saying “Shhh, HR’s here now”. The same work colleagues saying “I’ve got an HR issue, what are you going to do about it?”. Saying things before interviews like “You’re better at asking questions, so you can do that”. By accident, I had become the HR cliché, and I hated it.

So, I started to challenge this. Challenge the roles of leaders and managers. Started to challenge employees being in receive mode most of the time. This led me to a different way of thinking – to challenge the purpose of HR, and therefore what it does.

Now I believe that HR should help to grow great leaders and managers and then get out of their way. That they should tear up policies and procedures that no-one reads, or that are there to police the 1%, or those that simply waste time and get in the way. That they should create the climate of honest adult conversations, through being less HR and more partners focused in their organisations, through trusting and empowering people to figure things out for themselves.

This isn’t for everybody though. For some in the HR profession this challenges their very identity and they will they resist and hang onto their power. For some, who are leading organisations, what I talk about is literally the opposite of what they want their HR functions to do.

So much like last night’s goat burger, not everyone will agree with me, but every organisation will get surely get the HR that they deserve.

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