HR Roundtable: HR Would Be a Whole Lot Better If …


As people rolled into the room for the January 2013 HR Roundtable in Cincinnati, the monthly topic had a sharper feel to it. Everyone was gathering to discuss “HR would be better if …”

Steve gave the group some direction before they broke into small groups, because to sit back and bash HR is (honestly) way too easy. Too often, when discussions of this topic occur, either in person or in print, the railing calls against the evils of HR rear their ugly head.

So, the attendees were asked to give some context to answers so that the summary would be something that HR pros could take, review, and act upon. Let’s see what they had to say.

HR would be better if …

  • They could build consensus. Interesting way to start the discussion. The feeling was that HR tends to try to be sympathetic vs. being empathetic. Other groups tend to make HR into the “feely” people, and therefore, don’t look to them to take into account the human factor of situations. Building consensus is an essential skill for all facets of business and HR needs to learn to play in this arena.
  • They weren’t the compliance police. Amen and amen! Even though HR professionals say they don’t like this side of what they do, too many people tend to rely on compliance as their guide and use it to lead into most situations. A different approach is to view policies and procedures as parameters for employees to thrive within instead of thinking that people are breaking the “rules.”
  • They were proactive and decisive. This needs to be the driver to great HR within organizations. Rule makers and hall monitors just doesn’t cut it. Also, if you are an HR person who is always “putting out fires,” then you are more reactionary than proactive. Decisiveness is a skill needed by all business people. Senior Management looks to HR to be a decisive force in their companies.
  • They recognize they have a customer. Customer focused HR is not a new concept, but it is rarely a practiced concept. Understanding that HR is the leader and shepherd of a company’s employees is key to knowing that all people who work at a company are a customer. They all have different needs that HR can assess and address consistently.
  • They knew their business objectives. This isn’t the classic “HR needs to know the business” mantra. It is a call for HR to see itself as a business function that needs to have objectives and results just as much as every other department within an organization.
  • Everyone realized they’re in HR! What is this blasphemy? It’s a fact! HR needs to proclaim to executives that all employees have a hand in HR. This isn’t just about a person, or a department. Wherever there are people involved, the potential for an HR situation, issue, or opportunity will be present. Think of HR as integrated throughout instead of the lone silo at the end of the hall.
  • They knew how they affected the bottom line. HR needs to own up to this. As a business function, HR affects the bottom line both positively and negatively. If an organization only thinks of HR as “overhead,” we might as well be furniture. Knowing how HR makes a difference to business results is critical.
  • They were responsive. (Editor’s Note: At this point in the meeting there was a very large “harrumphing” that occurred and it sounded like a session of the British Parliament! Amazing — we must have hit a sore point!) To let people hang out there and not know what HR is/isn’t doing with their situation is a poor practice. If HR would like to launch positively into the forefront of people’s minds, it must get back to folks in a timely manner. It’s only human … hence the name of the profession!
  • They were given more resources. Many disciplines would give this answer. HR has felt the pinch of being “lean” and having to do more with less. A different way to look at this would be if HR people sought out more resources as well. Get connected, read blogs, meet people in HR, etc. Quit trying to do HR on your own!
  • They were allowed to be the human factor in companies. This goes out to the Senior Management of companies. How do you view HR? Are they acting in the manner you want HR to be practiced? If they are, then don’t complain. If you don’t know what your view/vision/direction of HR is, then change that. Get a direction and build on it. Both HR and your employees yearn for this clarity!
  • They were risk takers. Hee, hee. Hear that HR? TAKE RISKS! This is so overdue that’s it’s frustrating to even summarize. Being a risk taker doesn’t mean that you give up the ability to be diligent. It does, however, beg HR to move into the 21st century and beyond. If you know of HR folks who are risk takers, connect with them and see what they do and how they do it. They are more than willing to share what does/doesn’t work. The difference is that they’re willing to take the risk first.
  • They understand how to imprint others. Interesting response. The thought is that HR has the ability to connect the dots of how interpersonal actions have outcomes in various places and with various players. One on one situations are rarely one on one. Be the purveyor of dot connecting and show the various scenarios different HR approaches take. You don’t have to rely on the tried and true. You do have to be the one who is consistent and forthright.
  • Partner with others. HR needs to pull the curtain back and partner with others both inside and outside of organizations. It can’t continue to be the dark tower that people “go to.” If HR continues to remain isolated, then businesses won’t reach out to ask them to join. This goes back to the proactive side of us that needs to blossom.

Steve closed with a challenge and that was that resources that HR gathers need to be shared not “kept.” To show this he cited two books which are really helping him in his HR function — Boundary Spanning Leadership by Donna Chrobot-Mason and You’re Not That Great Daniel Crosby, Ph.D.

That was just the tip of the resource iceberg! If you have great books, blogs, meetings, conferences, etc. that you enjoy – then tell others and ask them to join in and enjoy them as well.

This was a great way to end this Cincinnati HR Roundtable. People want HR to get better and HR wants to be better as well. Now, let’s take steps to make that happen!

  • tai aguirre

    Thanks Steve for some great insights. In my experience with HR clients and employees your point about a type of collective HR is on point. There is much data as well to demonstrate how HR in cooperation with a professional incentive expert can enhance employee engagement and boost performance

  • Michaela Doelman

    These are all great points. Working in HR, one other point I would add is “They would listen more than they talk”. So many HR professionals want to dish out advice as soon as they hear the issue. If they would sit back and listen, they would show the employee/manager they are trying to understand what’s going on, get a better understanding of the bigger picture or history behind an event, and sometimes allow the employee to come to the solution on their own.

  • John Bushfield

    Steve – What I find most interesting is what the participants did not mention during the ‘HR Roundtable’. You didn’t indicate who was attending, but from the responses I’ll guess that they were primarily first and second level managers. In that context, the conclusions they came to are not surprising at all; most, if not all the suggestions addressed tactical, day to day operational issues typically associated with HR departments. And therein lies the problem, because with a few exceptions most of the observations noted will not help HR add real value. In fact, by focusing upon these points HR is doomed, and will become increasingly irrelevant as a meaningful function.

    HR is NOT the companies employee advocate that spends it’s time worrying about all things employee. HR is the BUSINESS advocate, worrying about how to improve the business today and how to prepare it for tomorrow. Huge difference. In that context some of the suggestions made by the Roundtable participants do apply, such as risk taking, understanding the function, alignment with strategic plan, etc.

    There is a tremendous opportunity for HR to lead it’s company into the new world, but it needs to put on its big boy/girl pants and take the plunge.

  • Mohamed Baqer

    Dear Steve Browne, Your article is amazing. To be honest, I have recently thrown a light over the areas you have mentioned. We support you here to improve the area of HR with your convincable skills. You are helping making the world a better place. Well done.

  • Lyn Pont

    Steve: Thank you. Really, really terrific article. Especially the part about knowing how we
    affect the bottom line. Let’s become expert at setting and meeting goals that
    affect our customer’s needs. Why not be able to shout to our business partners
    that our success affects the overall health of the company?

  • Dolores Priegnitz

    Steve, excellent! Thanks for sharing your hard work.

  • Richa khurana

    NYC article….thanks