William Gould: If I could change one thing about HR...
When a rookie blogger is given an opportunity to write for an established audience, he should be deliberate in his decisions concerning things such as social sensitivity, political correctness, and the positive reinforcement of what is just and good. Fortunately, those considerations have never stood in my way, and after careful deliberation and consultation I opted for being more authentic. So, if I could change one thing about HR, it would be this: We should stop being paranoid data whores, and start behaving like we are in the business of leading people.
The human resources profession is fundamentally in the business of data management. We are the gatherers of data, the keepers (and some may claim hoarders) of data, and as time and business have evolved, we have become the reporters of data. Think about the core HR processes within any organization, and I am confident that you will agree we compile exceptional amounts of data: requisition data; application data; testing data; interview rating data; selection data; performance management data; payroll data; and, benefits data. The list is virtually endless.
Over the past several decades (certainly in the US), many rules and regulations have been legislated to provide additional rights and protections for workers. With these legislative mandates came the responsibility for organizations to track specific data and to report it as required by Government agencies (e.g. Affirmative Action Plans/EEO data), or at least to be prepared for an audit, or a lawsuit.
As many of the responsibilities were delegated to HR, we evolved from simply being the collectors of data to becoming the compliance police. It became our responsibility to not only collect and report the employment-related data, but also to ensure that our organizations and managers were complying with the intent and specific elements of the law.
Within the past decade, the argument that many have made for HR to become a strategic partner is to learn how to turn the volumes of data into usable information. Our strategic value, they have argued, begins with providing the information needed by operations leaders to better understand the workforce. We have developed key HR metrics (e.g. performance management), integrated our HR dashboards (or in many cases actually created them), and have taken action to align and measure our people processes to better support the strategic direction of our organizations. While I agree that this is the right evolution for HR, I will also argue that this does not qualify us to be in the people leadership business; at best, we are becoming strategic information brokers.
What's missing is the human element in human resources. The transformation of HR into the business of people must begin with us seeking amnesty within the world of good business leaders, and by ending our self-imposed exile on the Island of Neutral Existence. Where does this vile HR-ism reproduce? I will suggest that it is happening everywhere. Within the past month alone, I've engaged in this debate in online discussion threads through professional associations, online discussion threads with graduate students in human resources, at my local SHRM meeting, with a college professor, and with more than one HR colleague. I have heard this belief regurgitated for the entire decade during which I have held HR leadership positions.
HR will never be in the business of people, let alone leadership, until we make the choice to actually engage with the people who are our organizations. How is it possible to be interested and engaging when it is practically our professional motto that we should avoid definitive positions on matters of controversy ("We must be neutral")? Engagement is necessary to establish real credibility. Credibility is enhanced through relationships with the people in our organizations, and our profession. Developing good relationships, I am told is how we build the foundation to become great leaders.
Leaders inspire and motivate people through their words, actions and behaviors. Leaders are brave, set the vision, communicate the vision, and remove barriers that stand in the way of people making the vision become a reality. Here is the critical crux: we cannot establish or communicate a vision, or remove obstacles when we are sitting on the fence that creates our barrier.
So, what are you going to do as a leader of people to inspire others to achieve your organization's mission? How are you going to contribute to the evolution of our profession? It is just one man's opinion here, but those who choose to maintain the self-imposed isolation on the Island of Neutrality will only perpetuate the perception that HR is little more than a group of paranoid data whores. Is anyone else interested in taking a swim?