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Who says we don’t need human resources?



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Human resources is a function that is no longer needed, according to this guy who wrote a piece for LinkedIn about why it’s time for HR departments to “call it a day”.

Not that I want to give Bernard Marr more publicity than he’s already received (anyone who clicks through to his profile can see how he as a consultant might benefit from denouncing HR as a valuable part of the business) but it’s worth a read if you haven’t come across it already.

In this column, a few points are made about why HR is no longer needed, and what the function is doing wrong overall in terms of being seen as an important factor in an organisation’s success.

To make for easier reading, I’m going to go through and debunk his arguments one by one.

1. “The time has come for HR departments to call it a day.”

This is a pretty vague statement which just leads me to question the author’s overall understanding of human resources.

This comment doesn’t signify what he means by HR, to start. Are we talking purely administrative and transactional roles, or strategic roles which place HR professionals as valuable business partners? It makes a difference and defining the real position of HR and its mission is key to this argument for each company.

I do agree that in many companies, HR in its classical sense is probably no longer needed. But can you imagine certain aspects of the function – I’m thinking benefits management, diversity management, recruiting, on-boarding and more – being taken out of a department called HR and being given directly to all line managers? I predict chaos and madness and the collapse of a function which has been carefully structured to work for the people and the business.

2. “The first point I want to make is that the name is wrong: very wrong. It signals to everyone that this department manages ‘human resources’ in a top-down fashion, i.e. managing humans in a similar way to other resources such as finance, property or machines. If departments can’t see that this is sending out the wrong messages, then they don’t deserve to be there anyway.”

This is a pretty bold statement, and one that is based on a fairly flimsy understanding of what a “resource” is. As far as I’m aware, a resource is something that is valuable, sometimes rare, and is a source or supply from which a benefit of sorts in produced.

So, doesn’t the term “human resources” simply imply that it is the job of people who work in HR to grow and develop the company’s resources, which happen to be human?

There’s nothing to suggest humans are being managed like “machines”. And besides, changing the name of the function is redundant. I can’t imagine CEOs care what the function is called. It doesn’t change anything and it’s not something we really need to be arguing about, frankly.

3. “HR departments are trying to serve two masters – which, in most cases, is not very successful. On the one hand, they are there to provide support for the employees and, on the other hand, they are there for the company and the senior management to help manage (and monitor, discipline, appraise, etc.) employees.” 

The author then goes on to say that this conflict of interest causes problems because HR will support the company, rather than the employees.

Again, I ask, does this guy understand how human resources works?

Of course HR professionals work for the best interests of the company. Doesn’t every single employee who is hired? Isn’t that why they were hired? The very function of HR is to ultimately be 100% aligned to the needs of the company.

However, this includes ensuring employees are satisfied, happy, engaged, being paid on time, etc. This is company-serving, yes, just like any other department in an organisation, because that is their job.

In no way does it mean that HR professionals are out to get employees and work against them by being “on the company’s side”. It’s not a role that ‘takes sides’ like children in a playground, and to suggest it is, is simply ignorant.

4. “What really matters is whether HR delivers value. I have recently seen a number of companies that shut their HR departments down completely; outsourced the function or reduced it to a minimum. The reason they have done it, and not suffered any significant throw-back, is because HR wasn’t delivering any real value.”

This, I agree with – in part. If HR is providing no value to the organisation, then there’s no point in it being there. But insinuating that because some companies shut down their HR departments because they weren’t working means the function as a whole must no longer be needed is just plain wrong.

In conclusion, there’s a lot more I could say in rebuttal to this column, but I think one of the commenters, David Gaspin, director of human resources and administration at SinglePlatform, puts it best when he says the function is easy to pick on because it has established itself as the “fat kid” who can be mocked openly without fear of recourse.

Yes, HR can be the bad guy – and needs to be at times – and plenty of people the world over will have gone through some sort of employee dispute, minor or major, that they probably blame on HR. This is part and parcel of the job.

But that’s no reason to say human resources isn’t needed. It is an endless process to align the HR priorities and initiatives with the need of the business, because that business – its people, the environment, the culture and its competitors – are constantly evolving.

Therefore, adding value to an organisation comes by understanding and trying to solve this complex problem, not by shutting down the function altogether.



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Rebecca Lewis
Editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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