HR is a very easy target. I should know, I have worked in it for over 30 years and taken as much abuse as anyone else; usually from those who haven’t got a clue what they are talking about. But I can also dish it out, openly criticising HR, in the hope that it will change for the better.
I do so in the knowledge that supportive ‘families’ will take criticism (and ridicule) from other family members that they will not accept from outside. This was the fundamental problem with the infamous ‘Why we hate HR’ by Keith Hammonds back in 2005. Keith is an outsider and has done nothing to resolve whatever problems he thought he had identified. He also failed to recognise that the ‘we’ he refers to (every operational manager I have ever met), who apparently ‘hate HR’, are as much a part of the problem as anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong Keith, you certainly possess a keen intellect, a sharp sense of humour and the accuracy of a sniper in picking off many of your HR targets. You also made some positive suggestions, repeated in a more recent update of your views, showing that you went -
“beyond criticism to offer five ways to work well: Say the right thing; measure the right thing; get rid of the “social workers”; serve the business; and make value, not activity.”
So what sort of mental process led you to conclude that ivory tower academics like Ulrich (who talks about value but never defines it), Gratton, Boudreau and Lawler would know the ‘right’ thing to do?. They are a main part of the problem – teaching methods that just don’t work in the real world. As one might expect from a journalist this is a classic case of talking the talk, rather than walking the walk. How do you define value Keith? Your current LinkedIn profile tells us that you are now working for Ashoka, which “envisions an Everyone A Changemaker™ world“, and you are -
“Starting up an initiative, with core funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to identify, support, and connect entrepreneurs whose innovations promise to inform, engage, and connect people in powerful ways that advance democratic society.”
Sorry Keith, but to borrow one of your own phrases aimed at HR – “I have no idea what you’re talking about”. It all sounds like a lot of activity and that key word ‘value’ does not feature. Perhaps, in the deepest recesses of your psyche, you are really just another pink and fluffy HR type of guy desperate to come out of the closet? Such empty rhetoric would certainly make you feel at home in any HR department that would have you.
I’m sure your colleagues at Ashoka have very good intentions – just as many of the HR people I have worked with do – but turning good intentions into value is a tough challenge; especially when the system that we are all subject to says the only thing that really matters is profit rather than value. Not-for-profit organisations do not change that system, even if they make the people who work in them feel better about themselves, and social enterprise is, to say the least, a very shaky concept (see ‘The Value Motive’).
Constructive criticism is always valid and should be welcomed but only the right actions create value. Number one on the current HR to-do list is not saying the right thing but doing the right thing and, as I am sure you would concur Keith, that has to start with ‘measuring the right thing’. I will be the first to admit that is easier said than done; especially when organisational leaders (sic) don’t know the fundamental difference between profit and value.
By the way Keith, if you are listening, hating people who don’t know what they are talking about does not help them to understand or learn – the two reasons I came into HR in the first place.