HR's Perception Problem
As the HR profession engages in healthy discussions about its future, let's focus on what we can change and ignore the noise from those who are complaining because they had a bad HR experience or know someone who did.
By Susan R. Meisinger
In last month's column, I briefly commented on Ram Charan's recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled, "It's Time to Split HR." Charan suggested that CHROs simply don't have the bandwidth to do the job that needs to be done for organizations today, arguing that most are "process-oriented generalists" who aren't able to "relate HR to real-world business needs" very well.
His suggested solution (to assign the management of compensation and benefits to the CFO, and have a person responsible for talent development reporting to the CEO) has generated a rich discussion on the role of the CHRO, not only on the HBR website, but also amongst HR professionals in general.
I love this sort of discussion because it forces us, as a profession, to assess where we are and where we need to be. It's exactly what any profession should do in a business environment of constant and increasingly rapid change. So, while I don't think Charan's specific proposal makes much sense, I applaud him for being a catalyst for the conversation.
There's one part of the conversation about the profession, however, that I think we fail to acknowledge, and it's a part that I'd like to encourage all HR leaders to recognize, discuss and help future leaders in the profession understand and embrace.
I think we need to accept the reality that no matter what HR professionals do, we will always be subject to some level of criticism or complaint. It comes with the job. If you, or members of your HR team, expect to be loved by all of the employees in your organization, you need to pick another profession.
Simply stated, what human resource managers do on a daily basis is personal to each and every employee. And not every employee likes what we do.
If the accounting department makes a mistake, it just redoes the spread sheet. If marketing makes a mistake or gets the message wrong, it simply redesigns the campaign. If the sales department misses its quota, it focuses on the next quarter. If research and development fails to discover or develop a new product, it tries again.
If HR makes a mistake, it probably impacts employees' lives. It's personal.
After all, HR is responsible for the compensation strategy and system; I haven't met many employees who think they're paid enough.
HR is responsible for health benefits, and I certainly haven't seen a trend for businesses to increase health benefits.
HR is responsible for organizational structure; I seem to recall a few cases in which employees asked to redesign their jobs or have new job titles in ways that made no business sense.
HR is responsible for recruiting talent; of course, none of us have ever experienced a disappointed candidate, right?
And who is the last person an employee is likely to see as they exit an organization because of performance problems?
When managers are well trained (usually through the efforts of HR) and effective, employees understand their compensation and benefits, they understand the rationale for the organizational structure, they understand the performance management system, and they're more engaged and productive.
At the same time, in this optimum scenario, HR is invisible.
But often, despite the training provided by HR professionals, some managers -- particularly if they are new or just weak -- will simply tell an employee that his or her predicament is "because of HR." HR determines pay, HR determines job titles, HR screened the candidates and HR sets the progressive discipline policy that leads to termination.
And it therefore becomes HR's fault.
I don't care how good you are as an HR professional -- if you've mastered every competency identified by every HR researcher, if you've passed every certification exam, if you're respected and valued by every other executive in your organization. You're still going to have employees who blame HR for something personal that happened to them -- a raise or title they didn't get, problems getting insurance to cover their health care provider, a disciplinary action they didn't think they deserved. It's just part of the job.
And unfortunately, most everyone who's been in the workforce knows of someone who has had a workplace issue, or they can cite one of their own. Since not all HR professionals are perfect -- or even competent – these stories abound.
So what's my message? As the profession engages in healthy discussions about its future, let's focus on what we can change, and ignore the noise from those who are complaining because they had a bad HR experience or know someone who did. Let's not carry the mantle of "victim" because they just don't understand what HR does.
The very thing that makes HR a challenging profession – that it's personal to the employees -- is what makes it a great profession. What you do can impact peoples' lives in a positive way, helping to develop and execute strategies that make the business successful, while rewarding employees fairly and providing a workplace that's engaging and productive.
And that's a great way to make a living!
Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.
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