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Putting HR Out of Business

On July 8, 2010, in HRExaminer, More2Know, by John Sumser

putting-hr-out-of-business-hrexaminerPutting HR Out of Business

What if the goal of the HR operation was to put itself out of business? Not as a way of moving on to a better type of HR but as an end in itself. Why shouldn’t HR be responsible for solving a set of problems and then closing the door?

Part of HR’s Public Relations problem stems from the idea that HR should be a permanent fixture. What if that just doesn’t make any sense at all? Who says that the problems HR addresses can’t be settled, wrapped up and dispensed with? Why shouldn’t having an HR function demonstrate a lack of maturity in an organization.

Plenty of organizations, committees, task forces and project teams are convened for a precise purpose, a specific agenda or a fixed time frame. The goal is to solve a problem and disband, to address the issue, design solutions and then go away. Why not HR.

In its current forms, HR rides its host organization like a parasite that extracts a nearly fixed percentage of the organization’s revenue. It’s like a sales tax or the mob’s weekly ‘insurance’ charge. While there is a lot of arm waving, HR finds it nearly impossible to show ROI for the money the company invests. In many cases, there is good reason to think that it’s actually double tax… you pay a percentage of revenue to get a function that slows things down.

A jaundiced eye notices that HR is a catch all for the cats and dogs that no other function wants. Providing the glue that holds employees to the organization is the best description that can be mustered. As the need for that glue evaporates, one wonders about the relevance of the department.

What would we miss if HR just went away?

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  • I've been advocating the “animal rescue” approach in HR for years. If you spay & neuter pets, you don't need animal rescues and foster homes and shelters. It's that simple. Focus on the core problem. We implemented some of these animal rescue principles on my HR team while I was at Pfizer. You don't need a Human Resources generalist in Terre Haute or Overland Park or LaJolla if you teach your leaders how to lead and manage. HR can be commoditized and we can leverage technology to deliver information and improve manager-led processes like performance reviews, the compensation cycle, etc.

    Let me add: the same can be said for recruiting. Leaders are recruiters. Recruiters are hired help, IMHO. No better than Human Resources. Sometimes worse. They fill a void created by perception. Oftentimes, management laziness drives a tremendous amount of business to third-party recruiters. I said to my leaders, “You want budget? You want headcount? You want status? You earn it. Own the hiring process. I'll help.”

    The best recruiters I know are all about education/skill transfer. They may *source* candidates, which is a skill that most leaders & hiring managers in Corporate America don't have, but they also teach leaders how to develop a network for themselves.

    I just told the SHRM students attending the national conference (future recruiters, generalists, benefits & comp leaders) that they should never be afraid to work themselves out of a job. Just do it the right way.

  • That's smart, Laurie. It would be great if every HR and Recruiting pro took the time to imagine working themselves out of a job. I'm glad you're carrying the torch.

  • kevinwgrossman

    I echo Laurie, although not nearly as articulate. Too many leaders – from executive management to line managers to project managers – perpetuate a millennia of top-down enabling. Empower staff in self-suffiency while leading small and thinking big. Then disappear. We've been evolving that way at our firm for years.

  • My thoughts on the way into work this morning centered on re-inventing HR. For if we do not sieze the initiative to re-invent ourselves, someone else will be doing that for us. Government is already doing that. Stay tuned for the DOL’s Plan/Prevent/Protect strategy which seeks to redefine HR into Chief Compliance Officers.

    Ego sum unus. Ego opus unus.

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