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Is HR serious about changing itself?

A bit of a history lesson for anyone who is too young to have partied during the 1980’s or has no idea what HR does.  Things in the world of Personnel (now called HR) up until the late 1980’s used to be so straightforward as its purpose, value and role was very functional and one dimensional.  We were the ones who tried to make sure people got paid the right amount at the right time and tended to do managers and leaders ‘dirty work’ when it came to people stuff (such as hiring, firing etc…).

Since those heady days of predictability, Personnel has changed its name a few times and seems to have settled down for the time being on the phrase HR Partnership.  In reality what this means is HR has gone slightly up the organisational food chain and has definitely got more clout but we think at CourageousHR that fundamentally HR is still the same old wine in new bottles!  Or as Francis Bacon (British Philosopher) once famously said “He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils”

Chatting to friends across the world of HR, speaking at HR conferences and talking to business leaders it seems HR has changed its strap line from being an order taker to a service provider.  The rhetoric is spot on but the reality is disappointingly very different.  You see not enough HR folk actually know what HR Partnership means let alone understand how to act like a partner with the business.

Therefore, this series of blogs is all about exploring what HR transformation means.

Let’s start at the very beginning – why should HR change? Fundamentally it comes down to two basic things: the world of work is anything but predictable and people are now the competitive advantage for most organisations.  In other words, HR’s historical over-reliance on its technical expertise and running a smooth operation is no longer a good enough reason for business leaders to stump up a lot of money without a clear return on investment. 

HR has been pushed down the track of HR Partnership because research now shows that HR can become significantly more impactful and value adding when it becomes a full partner in design, planning and implementation of organisational strategy and employee development whilst at the same time ensuring it spends more of its time on being strategic business partners. 

So far so good!  The problem arises in the execution of the HR changes.  It seems HR can’t get away from its instinct to find ‘quick fixes’ to complex issues.  As an example, we worked with a client which was just about to commence the implementation phase of its HR Business Partnership Model and was wondering why the HR team weren’t “up for it”.  Well it didn’t take long to discover the reason why – it had spent nearly 2 years working on HR Process Maps and a new Shared Service Centre yet provided the HR Professionals and business leaders most affected by these changes with a few ‘informative’ PowerPoint presentations. 

This is the crux of the HR transformation issue – it is not just about a name change and it certainly is not limited to a physical restructuring.  In fact it would be better if the HR BP bandwagon came to a juddering halt to focus less on the hype and invest more time on understanding that the success of HR is down to the quality of its people, the quality of the relationships it has within and across the business, and a real sense of pride and purpose in the value it can bring to and generate.

Would it surprise you to know that over 90% of HR Functions (based on recent global research) are in fact doing some type of change?  This is a scary statistic not only because it could imply that HR change is more of a fad rather than a real business need but just as worryingly it appears more than 50% of these change initiatives struggle to meet the key expectations of focusing on HR Strategic issues and managing / reducing costs. 
Another surprising statistic is that HR change tends to take a year or more longer than expected (3-4 years on average for any significant HR change programme) due to planning failure.  This basically means HR tends not to be great at: ensuring they have senior leaders / line managers’ buy-in; there is a lack of change management planning; a failure to recognise the complexity of the changes being sought which tends to result in a lack of resource availability (e.g. time, money, expertise etc…).

HR is at a crossroads – not necessarily of its own choosing – and it needs to decide whether it is a follower of fashion or a serious business player.  If Hr remains a fashion accessory to organisations then the change agenda is less about strategic substance and more cost savings. 

To find out how HR can transform itself into being a strategic partner to the business make sure you follow this series of blogs on HR Transformation. 

To find out how CourageousHR can support the development of your HR Function please email [email protected] to arrange a call to discuss your specific development needs