I remain a little befuddled about the strengths and weaknesses of the Bersin Impact Show and HRevolution. The two events combined give you a really clear picture of what is right and what is wrong in contemporary HR.  Where Bersin’s event is a clear example of using data to drive credibility, the HRevolution folks do the same thing in the opposite direction. As noted, Bersin’s event could do with more soul while HRevolution could use a chunk of data and a stats class. Both sets could also use media coaching and some additional presentation skills.

Neither universe is effective at the real issue that bedevils the profession: HR is only interesting to the extent that it drives real business results. Otherwise, it’s a set of administrative functions that are better outsourced. There are very few role models to demonstrate what success might look like. And, if they knew about these sorts of HR events, they’d stay away.

Best practices are a quick channel to mediocrity, especially when they involve the bad idea that HR is an end unto itself. Doing any HR function faster, slower, better or worse, insourced or out is an exercise in navel gazing unless it ties directly to business results. Any objective setting process that invokes pure HR variables (like time to hire or competency densities) leads away from the business and into the land of navel gazing.

The following notes are from a couple of smart folks (Jason Lauritsen and Steve Browne) who presented at the HRevolution conference. Their session was an attempt to deal with the larger question of HR’s relevance. It really speaks for itself.

As the 2011 HRevolution sessions kicked off, Jason and Steve were stoked to be able to bring a different format to the forum as well as set the stage for being extremely intentional as HR professionals regardless of what faction the attendees represented. 

The topic was “If HR is so bad . . . what are YOU doing about it ??

After the obligatory introduction of the facilitators, the session began by asking the session attendees to break into small groups and answer the following two questions:

  1. Why isn’t HR respected today?
  2. How can HR be respected?

The facilitators knew a third question was coming, but they didn’t share with the group until the first two were thoroughly discussed.  When the groups came back together, this is what they had to share:

Why isn’t HR respected today?

  • Too many patsies and order-takers.

It’s nice to start any session with a major stereotype !!  It sets the tone of what’s about to transpire.  The fact is that this isn’t a stereotype only because HR has remained a vastly administratively driven field that tends to sit and wait for others to tell them what to do/not do.  HR people who take action are often seen as threats because they are such an anomaly in the business world.

  • No original thought.

This is truly a challenge, but it’s also a crutch.  You could make the argument that most business thought isn’t original.  It’s not just an HR thing.  However, this is a stinging realization when HR continues to push out the next “best practice” or “trend” in their organizations without first questioning if it even fits their company.  Mimicry is not flattery – it just shows a lack of originality.

  • HR DNA – we attract a certain “type”

Interesting that this was noted in a field that could be championing diversity in thought and approach.  But, again, some real truth here.  People felt that a large portion of the field is made up of “sheep” leading sheep.  Note that this isn’t a shepherd (leader), it’s more of a compliance, rule following worker who wants to make sure people are happy at work while being risk averse and limiting liability. (Sound familiar? – Forgive the generalization).  In a field that could be fraught with vibrant, deep-thinking radicals who push the field, the organization (SHRM) and others drastically forward, we tend to fall to the middle of the curve because it’s safer there !!

  • Female dominated profession

This just isn’t cool.  In 2011 for gender to be an issue that still questions “respect” is just archaic !!  The fact that women are better at relationships between humans (in general) is a strength.  To think that men are either better, or worse, in HR is just as ignorant.  And, if the feeling is that women in HR are business savvy, then we may conclude that we still sit smack dab in the middle of the Industrial Revolution.

  • HR lacks confidence and doesn’t command respect.

What other field tears itself down more than HR?  Can you name one?  This is a sad statement that the practitioners in this great field feel like they are the constant downtrodden.  If this doesn’t change, there is no possible way that HR can ever hope to earn, let alone command, respect.

  • HR is in the “bad news” business.

This is a fact.  Much of what HR does is dealing with the dark underbelly of organizations.  The problem with this is not the work, it’s the fact that HR people keep wallowing in this mire thinking that they only do the dirty work and add no other value.

  • We want to be “liked” and praised for helping others.

Whether you agree with this or not, being “liked” is not a business competency.  Part of this feeling may be that HR seeks affirmation on good things because they do handle the dark side of human behavior so often.  However, this isn’t High School.  Relationships are built on action – not desire.

  • Try to make every priority a top priority.

You can also call this the “house is burning !!!” syndrome.  HR people get flustered when people are creepy.  They can tend to knee jerk and overreact on emotions that are flying around instead of asking for calm and looking to be consistent.  This approach just isn’t possible and it’s senseless to try it.

  • People are more proud to be in HR than being in Business.

This is unfortunate, but true.  HR people will dive on the martyrdom sword to defend that they are in HR and they expect others to be empathetic to this.  They aren’t.  Steve has contended for years that people need to be in Business and practice HR.  Every other field does this and HR is sorely overdue to catch up in this effective way to add value to organizations.

How can HR be respected?

  • Be the business.

We know this is the opposite of the prior answer, but it’s a much deeper issue than you think.  HR has to be as integral to the success of the business as every other department.  This has to be the rule and not the exception.  Also, if you want to be honest, this is the “at the table” reality that HR has been elusively striving for over the past decade.  HR needs to buck up and join the band.  Those that do will dominate the field going into the future !!

  • Outsource things HR shouldn’t be doing.

Amen and amen !! (reference the gospel choir that sang during our session)  Outsourcing is not a dirty word.  The aspects of HR that are highly administrative and/or irrelevant need to go to companies who have chosen to do this work and do it well.

  • Understand how HR’s work drives the business.

This is different than the point listed above.  HR needs to position itself in this new role by showing how their work does drive the business.  One tenet to remember is this . . . Ask senior management which departments in the organization have people.  When they state “all of them do”, then HR needs to jump because since we lead the human factor of companies, you have a platform to build upon to integrate HR throughout.  This isn’t the P&L/ROI/etc. argument.  Those are facts of running any business.  HR needs to live the business case it can perform to by showing how processes work through people – not in spite of them.

  • Build relationships with all levels in the company – especially senior leaders.

This is the great “get off the sideline” charge !!  The truth is that this can’t be a desire anymore.  It has to be a fact.  If HR are more concerned with their desks, their social media presence and brand, and their yearning to be liked than will developing viable, sustainable relationships, then they will disappear.  That’s the cold, hard fact.  Without meaningful relationships, HR will continue to churn as it has for decades.

  • Get out in the business (physically).

Be where people are.  It’s pretty simple, but HR needs to be visible where the work is occurring and not just sit in some office or cubicle dictating the next HR policy or procedure.  Be the “H” in HR !!  This needs to stop even coming up at Conferences.  It is such a basic benchmark of great HR that it has to be part of our fabric and no longer just talk.

  • Get connected !!!

The idea that HR can remain this field of isolationists is outdated.  For those of us who are connected, i.e. HRevolution attendees, don’t think that the greater HR community hears a word you’re saying.  Don’t make the assumption that the great work that’s being done on Twitter, blogs, blog radio, etc. is making this giant impact on the greater HR community.  We have to come to terms that as excited as we are about being connected, that it’s time to reach out to those around us who aren’t connected.  This is more than giving people a #FF.  This is being intentional and making sure that all HR folks are learning how they can make themselves, their roles and their companies better !!

So, what are YOU going to do ?? 

Jason and Steve ended their session with a challenge.
Coming to conferences (traditional and Un) are great, but if people don’t take a stand and do something significantly different, than it’s just another set of people talking passionately in a vacuum.
Each person was asked to stand and state what they planned to do differently in action (not write a blog post) to move HR forward in their circle of influence.  There were some really compelling answers that people gave and it was so encouraging to hear that people not only wanted to participate in this session, but they wanted to see HR get better through their efforts.

So, as you read this summary, we now ask the whole group from HRevolution . . .


Do us a favor and e-mail us.  We’d love to hear from you as well as compile the great things that people are going to do.  Who knows, your answer may inspire others?

Don’t blow this off.  Don’t let it pass you by either.  If you do, then don’t expect different results in HR !!

Jason Lauritsen
Steve Browne


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