Abolish HR!

Written on:June 24, 2013
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abolish 1-1HR isn’t HR anymore. Abolish HR!

This might sound like a controversial statement — especially for a human resource leader to make. However, I believe it is time to give this serious consideration. I accept this as a challenge to really reconsider exactly what value the human resources function brings to any enterprise.

Many of us senior practitioners recall the shift from personnel back office to human resources. As I travel and visit HR teams and as I talk to other professionals in the field I remain amazed at how much old fashioned personnel is still being practiced.

For the past decade or better the HR clamor has been to be invited to “the table.” Do we really need an invitation? Is that really where we make our impact?

It really does not matter what terminology we use. The bottom line is the new HR. Human resource practitioners must pay attention to the bottom line. We need to do more than just ask questions. We need to partner with front line leaders to deliver solutions.

For me, the worst connotation about good old fashioned personnel is that personnel was seen as part of the back office, not connected to front line operations. A place to delegate, relegate, even to blame. But not part of operational decision making.

For me, the problem with the desire to be at “the table” is a similar implication that a failure to be invited to the table somehow connotes a separation from front line operations.

What does any normal and customary human resources function do? We work the people side of the business. What do our front line leaders do? They take care of people. What is the difference? So, where do we draw the line? Where is the real human resources today?

I don’t care if I sit at the table or not. I don’t care if you call me human resources, personnel, human capital, talent management, or something else. Getting wrapped up in these terminology debates is a distraction. All we need to do is focus on what makes our company effective. It is our people. Our employees. Our staff. Our associates. Use whatever term you like the best. It is all the same thing. All our companies are driven by people.

I believe the fork in the road confronting human resources today is simple — and it is staring us right in the face.

Add value in the most effective way possible. Now.

Here is where I think the opportunity lies. There is a program component to what human resources does. And, there is an employee support component. There are the two paths. Let’s acknowledge they are separate and distinct and take action accordingly.

Put your program piece in the back office. Better yet, outsource it. You don’t need a horde of people to run employee programs. In fact, you can buy employee programs for much less than it costs you to develop them on your own. Then customize them.

I have worked for several large, multi-company corporations and one professional compensation analyst can run a leadership compensation program for a 3,000 employee firm or for a 15,000 employee corporation. Move a few knowledgeable HR staff into the back office. Or, better yet, outsource them.

Put the employee piece in your front lines. Don’t mix and match the back and the front. Here, put your largest cadre of human resource professionals. And, carefully define their roles. These professionals are charged with assisting and supporting front line leaders, department heads, directors, division chiefs, and other leaders. These human resource professionals extend the capacity and capabilities of your front line leaders. They are not additional, supplemental administrative support.

They do not the job of your leaders; however,  they work to empower, to educate, to train, to coach, to advise, to counsel and consult with leaders. And, let your leaders do their entire job, engaging directly with their employees.

In today’s market place, skill sets are diverging. Programs are getting more complex. People issues are getting more complex. Set your team and your company up for success. Put the back office people in the back office. Put them off-site. Get them out of the way.

Put your people-people in the trenches, on the front lines. Let them sit side by side with your front line leaders. Put them on-site. Put them in the way.

That’s the fork in the road. Few see it. The bean counters want us to bundle. There is a false sense that we can save salaries by having the back office human resource staff spend part-time work crunching numbers for employee programs and part-time work consulting with leaders. Do this and you may save some salary, and you will get short changed.

Look for this fork in the road and push teams down the correct path. Put the right people in the right places. Let’s get radical. Get rid of the HR office altogether. Why is it needed?

Put your back office staff off-site in a shared location, and keep this group small. Support multiple companies by grouping teams across companies or facilities. Some call these shared service centers, or centers of excellence, or just corporate. It does not matter what you call it. Just get these people together, keep the group small, and leverage their time and talent across as large a set of employee groups as possible.

Put your front office people in with leaders and employees on the line. Keep this group as large as your financials allow. This is where you will get the greatest return for salary spent. Drive leadership capacity. Drive employee engagement. Drive customer loyalty.

The irony of today’s approach is that we pay the compensation expert a nice six figure income, and expect that professional to have 10 or more years of experience. And, we pay the front line consultant mid-five figures, and we are willing to put a recent college graduate in there; sometimes alone.

This is all backwards. So, get rid of HR. Let’s stop what we are doing and turn it all around.

Pay the front line business consultants well. This is where human resources becomes part of operations. This is where human resources can have the greatest impact on the company bottom line.

Over the years, I have read many articles where others (no-HR types) have recommended the removal of HR, mostly because they did not like HR and thought they could do HR better. Maybe, maybe not.

However, be honest with yourself. How many human resource professionals spend most of their time in the office and wait for others to visit them? Probably a lot more than we are comfortable with. How many spend most of their time out in the field, visiting leaders and employees on the front line? Probably a lot fewer than we are comfortable with.

Here’s an example that rings true to me. Recently, working with a large regional organization, members of the senior team intentionally stated that managers and other leaders did not need to know about employee pay. In fact, any reports to leaders that indicated what an employee was being paid were eliminated. Of course, during the normal course of each day, any number of employees had questions about their pay. These employees were referred to human resources. A back office human resource practitioner would field and try to assist these employees. Employee concerns about pay, how pay questions were handled, whether or not equity existed, and how annual adjustments were determined all directly affected many employees, many work areas and many front line leaders. Rather than empowering the leaders to work through these issues with employees, resolution was relegated to a back office compensation practitioner.

At another organization, the approach was different. Leaders were educated about the company pay plans. All leaders had access to information on their employees, tenure, performance and pay. Human resources coached these leaders on how to address pay issues. Only the most complex issues were directly relegated to a compensation expert.

Which organization had low employee engagement? Which had high employee engagement?

The key concept is not about employee pay — that is just the example. Think about all the other issues that are important to employees. In the organization that empowers its leaders, the employees are taken care of by their immediate supervisors. The employees have a much higher level of trust in their management team, and, therefore, a higher level of trust  in any number of other issues related to what the company is doing.

A little bit of additional information: the company with empowered leaders also has empowered employees. At this company the employees run the employee recreation association, they run the employee recognition events, they contribute to the employee newsletter, they run an employee suggestion program, the annual BBQ, the photo contest, the art show, coordinate involvement in community events — you get the idea. Oh, they buy and wear, voluntarily, company branded clothing. In short, these employees are empowered to do more than crank out widgets. At the other company some back office human resource practitioner does this for employees, and participation is meager — and it is difficult to even give away company branded polo shirts.

The company with the empowered leaders and employees is better staffed, there are fewer holes in the schedule, there is less overtime, fewer absences, employees are more engaged, customer satisfaction is higher, turnover is lower, there is less waste in the work place, fewer injury claims, and a sense of pride in belonging to the company.

That is your ROI: We all know engaged teams deliver a much greater return — fiscally and in terms of customer loyalty — across a broad number of metrics.

We don’t need a new table, an invitation or new terminology.

We need to get in the trenches and work side by side, hand in hand with those leaders that impact the day to day operations of the company.

The next level for human resources is the abolishing of human resources and rebuilding it so that we embrace the people side of front line operations.

Do you have human resource staff in the trenches today?

Do you purposely separate human resources back office work from operational engagement?

Do you coach your leaders to handle 90% of employee issues and only relate a very small percentage to a back office subject matter expert?

Are you putting strategies in place to leverage human resources to drive operational excellence?

View this article on HR C Suite.

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