'To be or not to be' – that is the question for HR.

On the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare I couldn't resist this title. The world is changing – customers have more knowledge, power and choices than ever before. Cultures are now challenging the ‘establishment view’ and technology is enabling it all. Companies increasingly understand that they must actually serve these new customers; just getting the ‘wrapper’ right is no longer enough.

To actually serve these customers your employees will need to choose to do the right thing most of the time. That is because you cannot control the delivery of excellent, attentive and responsive service. Companies increasingly know that they have to be able to manage this ‘people thing’ better, they know that their people are not choosing to do the right thing most of the time right now, so they want to change things so that they do.  The demand to manage this ‘people thing’ is therefore becoming a core and strategic concern.

Now us HR people have to sit quiet and listen to the following painful truths:

  1. HR is not the same as the ‘people thing’ that business is now so worried about. Whether or not HR is liked or disliked in a business, they will almost certainly not be seen as experts in how to change the ‘people thing’.  They are not seen as the natural change agents who should lead a change to how customers are served.
  2. HR remains addicted to a failed approach. HR has a bad reputation in terms of the value they add. HR professionals and the consultants that support them have a bad reputation. It is very rare to come across business leaders saying that they like their HR systems or their HR processes.  At best they will like the HR people because we get them out of difficult situations or have the difficult conversations for them. We continue to sell in and implement interventions we know don’t work.  We are clearly ‘insane’ – we are not only doing the same things over and over again and hoping for a different result, deep down we actually know the interventions will fail. As an example, using questionnaires as the core source of information to manage culture and engagement is fundamentally flawed. They will never give a true insight into what employees really think and feel about the things that actually matter to the business and this ‘people thing’. To do that you would have to talk to your employees in an intelligent and conversational way and deep down we all know that.  
  3. HR is at a crossroads – it’s our choice whether we are to be or not to be! If HR do not walk over to the people thing, business will walk past them and get on with it without them! HR will then wither away and die or be redefined as, or be consumed by, an administrative function. This is not a leap into the future, many businesses have already established ‘Culture Directors, Chief Talent Officers, People Transformation Directors etc etc all working alongside traditional HRDs. These are positions that the Business leaders have put in to manage the ‘people thing’. At the same time the CIPD have given awards to many HR Directors for being at the ‘top of their game’, whilst they have worked alongside these new roles, these roles that are actually managing the people thing. 

    Let me be very clear – if HR is ‘to be’ in the future, they must own the people thing. HR MUST redefine itself or die!