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He who is without HR sin



Something slightly different today. Below is a post by Gareth Jones (@garelaos) following on from a post I wrote last week on “strategic” HR.  In return you can see my response to Gareth here.


They say that Companies get the HR function they deserve and I’d be inclined to agree with them.  That’s not meant not meant to be an attack on the HR professionals at all.  If a company fails to take the people agenda seriously, and embed solid, progressive people practices in the organisation, at a strategic level, it will be outperformed.  It will also fail to attract the people who can make a difference, including good HR people, and/or will fail to leverage the talent they already have, again, including the HR professionals on board.

Of course, not every HR professional is a gold plated star.  After 8 years of interviewing and assessing HR folk, I can speak with some authority when I say the profession has its share of jobsworths, procedure peckers, nauseating wannabe’s, over-promoted pompous autocrats and all round ‘non dooers’.  However. it also has its fair share of competent, commercial, engaging, ambitious and strategic minded – yes even strategic – people.

But so does every other function in the business.  Unfortunately we are so obsessed with our ‘worth’ that we behave like no other function.  I see so many people graduating towards the commercial/strategic end of the spectrum (Whether they are qualified to belong their or not) and once there, instead of building constructively on that position, they start criticising and bemoaning everyone else – “I’m strategic and yoouuurr noooot. Na na na na na!” Cue lots of childlike playground behaviour.

And a good chunk of this rock throwing is aimed at the apparent habit of ‘talking tactics and non important stuff’ when we should really be (or even when we think we are) talking about real ‘strategic issues’.  Personally, I’m getting a little fed up with this trend for a number of reasons:

Not every conversation has to be strategic – Despite our mission (Obsession) with being strategic, HR is a contact sport.  At times its very hands on and rightly so.  If as an organisation, you are growing by 1000 people this year, that might not be keeping the CEO awake at night, but I wouldexpect issues with the resourcing process to be keeping the Head of Resourcing awake and rightly so.  If an HR professional wants to talk through the issues of embedding a new performance management framework into their organisation with their peers, swapping insights and picking up ideas, why shouldn’t they?  Its a solid, tactical and value adding conversation.  And, I should point out, one that the participants themselves would not label strategic – ironically its the rock throwers, not the participants, that are making this claim.

Not everyone is a strategist – Some people are only in the early stages of their career and yet to develop a more strategic outlook, others are more practical hands on types, happier to roll up their sleeves and deliver, leaving the architecture to others.  Should we belittle these folk for the content of their conversations?

Skills erosion –  As an assessor of HR professionals, one trend that concerns me is the lack of people coming through with solid and proven, hands on, experience of the basics.  The Ulrich model, an erosion of the environments that knocked the rough edges of the HR apprentices and this obsession with ‘Strategic HR’ have combined to produce a swathe of people who lack real demonstrable skills.  Far too many HR professionals are making it to the senior ranks on the back of very lightweight experience, only to start kicking others when they get there.

It’s negative – Negativity and self analysis are the cancer of our profession, from Linkedin groups to twitter, from the CIPD forums to the local branch meetings – its pervasive and destructive and very wrong.  Negativity closes down conversation, discourages participation and stifles debate.  The social media environment has been largely positive with some great HR folk participating, learning and contributing.  I for one would like to keep it that way.

Leading by example – I would expect more from senior participants in the whole strategic debate.  Too many simply criticise when their responsibility is to lead, challenge, encourage and generally move the conversation forward.  The beauty of social media is that you can step in and take part at any stage yet it seems that some prefer to sit on the sidelines and complain rather than get involved and guide the conversation through positive, supportive and constructive contribution.

Yes, our profession needs to up its game, I’m not denying that.  And by all means challenge someone if they put them selves out there as a strategist, but spend all their time talking about pension plans, performance appraisal processes and recruitment dilemmas.  But don’t knock the average, hard working HR professional who is trying to improve an organisations approach to people at a grass roots level. They get enough crap and lack of buy in from their functional peers as it is without their senior industry peers wading in with nothing but criticism.

Finally, as someone who has actually run a business for a significant number of years, I can say with absolute clarity that there is only one strategy that matters – the business strategy.  However, whenever I did have sleepless nights, it wasn’t margin pressure that kept me awake.  It was the people issues in the business.  Simply because I recognised that without a committed, self motivated and focussed team, there would be no business anyway.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Corporate Daycare permalink
    01/24/2011 13:13

    “Not everyone is a strategist”.

    Amen. Not everyone WANTS to be a strategist. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of the impact that your work has on overall strategies, but some just want to get it done.

    Personally, I think you need to work your way up to “strategy” – you have to know and understanding what the hell is actually going on before you can start spouting off what needs to be done.

    Well said TheHRD.

  2. 01/24/2011 13:46

    I’m very interested in the workings of HR at this level, but find it difficult to relate to an environment with 1,000’s of employees.
    Would you expect HR practitioners with less than say 150 staff to strategise to the same extent?

  3. david permalink
    01/24/2011 20:39

    What is this never-ending search for “strategic” HR?

    This shared endeavour of achieving with other people is the heart of what we do as people as well as professionals. So focus on contributing to the shared endeavour.

    Yes, scan the horizon, explore the environment, network like crazy, innovate! Put in place forward thinking policies. Whatever adds value to you and others around you.

    But never forget it’s a shared endeavour. That includes strategy and in particular people strategy.

  4. 01/27/2011 08:25

    @Corporate Daycare – It is actually @garelaos making these points, just on my blog….confusing I know. I’m not sure whether he or I should be responding!

    @Stephen O’Donnell – I would argue that smaller businesses tend to be better than bigger ones. Bigger HR teams tend to become self serving.

    @david – I completely agree and I’m sure @garelaos would too. You might have found a point we both agree on!


  1. Guest post from @TheHRD: It’s all about Strategy Dufus… « Inside My Head…

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