The World Has Changed — So Why Isn’t HR Able to Change With It?


Howard Risher’s recent TLNT article (HR Should Focus on Confirming Its Value, Not on Cost-Per-Hire) touched one of my hot buttons. Not what he said, but the issue of “strategic” HR in general.

I don’t know how active you are on LinkedIn, but I have been a member for the past four years. In that time there have been literally dozens of discussions on HR groups that have to do with:

  • Do you think we should change our name from HR or Human Capital to something else to give more credibility to our function?
  • What does HR need to do to get a “seat at the table?
  • What can we do to get top management to realize our value?
  • Why won’t top management back us on the people programs we are trying to implement?

Why are these HR hang-ups?

Just the same questions, over and over and over.

After about 200 comments recently on one of these LinkedIn discussions, one woman commented — and I swear I’m not making this up — “As long as HR insists on turning very simple questions into week-long, unbelievably complicated debates using terminology that no one outside of this profession would neither understand nor wish to, then it is no surprise if people struggle to find their true place in the business or in the boardroom.”


It is not as though these questions have just started appearing. They have been around for 30 plus years.

Why? Why does HR have so much trouble with its function? Why would changing the name of HR help? Why does HR get so “hung up” on things like this?

You don’t see that happening in Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Manufacturing, Finance, etc. Is HR so insecure that it believes changing its name every three or four years will somehow make top management think of them in a whole new light?

A national HR professional organization is working on some standards that will define everything in the HR function. They will become the global standard. As Howard Risher said in his article, the first one to be completed is the metric on cost-per-hire.

7 things HR needs to start doing

A person associated with this organization said: “If we can develop a standard, it’s no longer whether we should have a seat at the table. We are there.”

Really? I doubt it.

My beliefs:

  • HR needs to quit talking to HR. It does nothing but reinforce old habits and make us cling to processes/practices that make us feel comfortable
  • HR needs to stop listening to HR vendors that are constantly touting the latest flavor of the month. Vendors are the ones that are the guiltiest (in my opinion) of coming up with new words and catchy phrases. Remember when talent acquisition was “recruiting?” Pray tell me — what’s changed?
  • HR needs to quit trying to implement “best practices” in their company. The only best practice that exists is what works in your company — not other companies.
  • HR needs to quit reading HR material and start reading business publications: The Economist, The New York Times, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, and others.
  • HR needs to take courses in business – they exist for non-business people
  • HR needs to talk to the CEO and all the other members of top management to understand the business strategy. EVERYTHING, including HR strategy, flows from that.
  • Take everything off the current “HR program” table. Nothing is sacred. Then pick each program or practice up and examine it in an unbiased fashion. If it fits the business strategy put it back on the table. If it doesn’t throw it away. HR has gotten too invested in traditional programs/practices.

The world has changed. Read Peter Cappelli’s Talent Management for the Twenty-First Century. Send me your email address and I’ll send you a copy of a PepsiCo Vice President of HR’s comments on why HR should eliminate high-potential programs. (Sorry there is no link. His comments are from LinkedIn.)

Are you equipped for doing business?

Dr. Ed Holton in The Talent Doctor says it best:

In my experience the REAL key is this – YOU HAVE TO LOVE THE BUSINESS AS MUCH AS YOU LOVE HR. HR professionals rightly love their profession with all its myriad tools and tactics. But that only leads to “transactional” human resources.

He goes on to say:

If you want to make the move to strategic HR, you have to fall in love with the ‘business’ of your organization. Only then will you get as excited about studying the business plans and strategic goals of your organization as you do about HR.”

The truth? Most human resources managers aren’t particularly interested in, or equipped for, doing business. And in a business, that’s sort of a problem. As guardians of a company’s talent, HR has to understand how people serve corporate objectives.

To quote Ed Holton again:

As disappointing as it may seem to some, HR is just a means to an end. So is Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Manufacturing, etc. The real end goal is to make the company more successful. The ONLY tools and tactics we should be implementing are those that drive the company toward its strategic goals.”

Anthony J. Rucci, EVP of HR at Cardinal Health Inc., a big health-care supply distributor, says, “Business acumen is the single biggest factor that HR professionals in the U.S. lack today.” (He’s quoted Fast Company‘s famous in Why We Hate HR).

Questions HR should be able to answer

Rucci is consistently mentioned by academics, consultants, and other HR leaders as an executive who actually does know business. As far as Rucci is concerned, there are three questions that any decent HR person in the world should be able to answer.

  • First, who is your company’s core customer? Have you talked to one lately? Do you know what challenges they face?
  • Second, who is the (company) competition? What do they do well and not well?
  • And most important, who are we (as a company)? What is a realistic assessment of what we do well and not so well vis a vis the customer and the competition?

Wake up — it’s the “new normal” for both business and HR. The pace of change and complexity in the business world is accelerating. Visibility about the future is unclear. Predicting what will happen next has become increasingly difficult. Executives and boardrooms struggle with questions about business strategy.

Is HR able to adapt and change?

When a company searches for the right forecast, there is no clear answer. Ambiguity is at a high point. Trying to replicate what worked yesterday does not work — EITHER FOR BUSINESS OR HR. Executives truly need an HR that is strategic — that can let go of the past, roll up its sleeves and struggle through the unknown future with them.

As Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives; nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Please do not think I am arrogant or have all the answers. I truly don’t. But … why still doesn’t HR “get it?”