I can’t believe it’s been five years since Fast Company magazine ran its infamous cover story “Why We Hate HR.” Can you imagine how it must feel to be the human resources person for that magazine? It would be hard not to take it personally.
Over the years, HR continues to be the function people love to disparage — except for those of us who really get how great HR is and what it brings to corporate vitality. So I thought that it’s time to remind ourselves and each other how important and wonderful HR really is. Here’s an excerpt from the article I wrote in response to the Fast Company piece. (Pass it on!)
This is why I love HR:
HR brings humanity to enterprise: Being a people person is actually a good thing. Hold onto that thought, even as more experienced, “successful,” cynical people dismiss your passion for the peeps. Once you start getting cynical about the people side of your business, it’s time to switch functions — if only long enough to discover afresh how much more rewarding the HR department is.
HR allows cooler heads to prevail. When it comes to high-emotion, high-tension situations between employees, business leaders have two choices: Ignore it and let the courts figure it out later — to great expense both financially or in the eyes of public opinion — or let HR investigate. My advice: Let HR investigate. Now.
HR touches the future. In my interviews with HR leaders over the years, I have asked “Where is the true power of HR today?” One of my interviewees responded: “HR should be looking around the corner and anticipating the talent the business will be needing — not now but two, three, five, 10 years down the road.” Run your talent supply chain that can shift and change with an uncertain future and you just may be the one who saves your company.
HR is the moral compass of business. The moral compass? Bummer! “Who wants to be the scold? I want to be liked, to be respected, to belong. Who wants to be the one to tell leadership that they can’t do what they want? I didn’t sign up for that gig!” Well, actually, you did.
HR saves families. Families are held together when someone is bringing home a paycheck. Families are saved when a stressed employee can turn to the Employee Assistance Program to come up with a plan of resolution and action. Battered women and their children save their own lives when Mom has a supportive and flexible employer who will give her what she needs to find safe harbor.
HR brings hope to communities. When businesses thrive, communities benefit. When communities thrive, businesses benefit.
HR saves careers. I recognize that as a group, HR likes to perceive of its power as being something on the strategic level. That 35,000 feet point of view where one HR decision has a multimillion-dollar impact. But sometimes it’s just a one-person-at-a-time proposition.
HR promotes innovation. Those who dismiss HR as being the in-house compliance police have overlooked the immense amount of creativity required to run the people side of great business. Make your office “destination yes,” where leaders can come with half-baked (or half-something else) ideas and collaborate with HR to find a way to achieve the desired result in a way that doesn’t have the SEC or EEO come sniffing after them. When you hear of a company that has managed to survive a downshift in the economy without a single layoff, I promise you, HR is behind that story somewhere.
HR brings balance to the boardroom. There’s only one person on the executive team specifically charged with the responsibility of addressing the people ramifications of business decisions. That would be you. You’re the People Guy. That’s a good gig. Don’t check it at the door when entering a business conversation. That’s the balance — the value — that you bring to the group. If anyone else at the table wanted that job, they would have competed with you for it long ago.
HR gives talent a home. I’m not so naïve as to believe — or try to make you believe — that companies can only be innovative when they have an empowered HR team. But I can say with great confidence that when you have an empowered HR team, you put yourself in a far better position of being able to attract and keep high-value talent that will pioneer new products and services for you on a daily basis. A company that cares enough about its people to cultivate a spectacular HR team cares enough about its people to inspire creativity, productivity and greatness throughout its org chart.
That’s why I love HR.
Martha Finney is the author of more than 15 books, including “The Truth About Getting the Best From People” (FT Press, 2010). She is also the co-author of “HR From the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business.” She is the creator of Career Landscape, a team-building experience designed to help employees rededicate themselves to their mission and each other.
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