An Open Letter to Human Resources
I’ve been struggling with how to say this in the most supportive and effective way possible (because I do love you), but after a seemingly endless stream of imperfect drafts that I have deleted, I’ve decided to just blurt it out:
I’m done with you.
Sorry, but I just can’t do it any more. For decades, I have been your ally. I stood beside you, shaking my fist, as you demanded a seat at the leadership and strategy table. I agreed whole-heartedly with your assertion that “talent” is as critical to organizational health and success as elements that get a lot more attention and resources, like technology, good strategic choices, or effective marketing. Really, I get it. People matter. They determine our strategic advantage. They are the difference between success and failure, so we should all step up to the plate and (finally) give Human Resources (Human Capital, Talent Management, Personnel, People Operations, etc.) the trust, resources, and power that you deserve. Right?
I just don’t think more power or more resources is going to help. I still believe in the basic premise, mind you. The power of the human beings in our organizations is woefully underutilized, confirmed by yet another global study showing two-thirds or more of our workforce is disengaged. We absolutely need to change this, but I no longer have faith in the power of HR to do the job.
This is not a matter of competence. I’m not castigating HR for not being the brightest bulbs in the box. HR gets that rap sometimes, but I don’t buy the criticism. I think there is ample intelligence, creativity, strategic vision, gumption, and you-name-it in the HR community. If anyone out there happens to know some HR folk who are less than dazzling, fine. I’m sure I can find a similar number of duds in any other organizational discipline. It’s called a bell curve. It’s not lack of talent that’s holding HR back.
But to be honest, I’m not sure we should try to figure out what exactly IS holding HR back. HR is simply doing what management has asked it to do for the last 100 years. The broken HR we are living with today is the natural result of 100 years of running our organizations like machines. HR’s job was to manage resources and “fill positions,” as if a cog had literally walked out of the machine, and it’s HR’s job to replace it.
I don’t want to fix that. I want to do away with that. I want to create organizations that are more compatible with what it means to be human, and I just don’t think there will be HR in those organizations. We’ll still hire people, will still have compliance issues, we’ll still manage performance. But it will look different. It will be different.
And here’s the hard part. That “different” is not going to come from HR. I just don’t think we will create solutions that work for humans from within HR. The machine is too strong within you. Even with the greatest minds, the most profound insights, the latest technology, and the best change management efforts, if HR leads this, then I am afraid we’ll end up with HR 2.0 (though it will have a cooler-sounding name; something with “people” in it). It will be better, I suppose. But you’ll still be disconnected from the people who do the work of the organization, and you’ll never keep up with the strategic shifts, and you’ll flounder (like everyone else does) when it comes to culture. It will look better, but kind of like pretty new deck chairs on the Titanic look better.
So I’m moving on. I’m committing to developing new HR solutions, knowing full well that I’m not an HR pro, and I’m encouraging others to do the same. I’m going to experiment and learn and intentionally stay out of the HR shop, because I don’t want to be drawn back into fixing what’s currently being done. Our challenge is not to fix. Our challenge is to create.
Of course I welcome you to join me in this journey. My commitment to inclusion has not changed. The people of HR are always welcome in this work. But you may have to leave some assumptions at the door, and you may be challenged with new approaches to traditional HR problems. You may have to work with some people who don’t “get it” like you do, and that’s a good thing.
And heck, maybe HR will prove me wrong. Maybe you all will be able to reinvent HR from the inside out. That would be perfectly fine by me, actually, and I’m not going to stop you from trying. But I’m not waiting for you either. The time to change is now.
Who’s with me?
(UPDATE: for those of you who are “with me,” I did a follow up post with some suggestions.)