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The new HR: a Manifesto

I don’t think a day has passed in the last three weeks when I haven’t found myself in a conversation with someone – be they HR professional or senior executive – who declared emphatically that the time has come for HR to reinvent itself.

It’s not a new conclusion, of course. The function has been engaged in active handwringing about its strategic role, its contribution, and its ‘role as a full partner at the table’ since at least the late ‘70s when I did my first summer co-op as a Personnel Clerk.

But there’s a certain matter-of-factness to these recent conversations that’s new to me. I don’t know if it’s because of this economic roller coaster we’re riding, or if we’re just plain tired of throwing the same old solutions at the same old problems and hoping the outcome will be less inevitable… either way, I smell change in the air.

Ever since Fast Company published Keith Hammonds’ essay Why We Hate HR a while back, I’ve been mulling over the question of reinvention more actively than I had previously. Hard as the article is to read, I have to acknowledge that there is a grain of truth to it. More than a grain, perhaps.

There’s little point in going into an exploration of why it is the way it is, although I do have some deeply held beliefs that I share all too freely after my second scotch. More valuable, I think, is to offer some thoughts on the way forward.

Here, then, is a draft manifesto for the New HR for your consideration. I’d like this to be an open conversation and welcome all contributions and comments.

  1. HR has one job: business success. Anything else is useless and a waste of time and resources. If it doesn't improve business outcomes (respecting all stakeholders), we're not doing it.
  2. HR isn't the Complaint Department or Corporate Daycare. We're going to hold people capable and accountable, and teach those who need it to grow up and stop wasting our time.
  3. We won't accept mediocrity. Human Resources can no longer be the place people go when they can't find meaningful employment. We want - and demand - the best and the brightest people with solid line experience, who understand business and who value the essential role of human capital in securing strategic objectives.
  4. Nothing is sacred. We're going to critically think about everything we do. We are willing to revisit – and challenge – the assumptions behind our systems and processes. Our workforce and our business imperatives have changed dramatically over the last decade; our most basic fundamentals have not. We simply have to stop trying to fix today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. Truth be told, they weren’t all that effective then either.
  5. We're not in charge of the holiday party any more. Yeah, that's right. We aren't the social secretaries. We have real work to do. See #1.
  6. Business is gonna want a seat at our table. The time of putting HR at the kid's table is over. People – our ‘human capital’ – are now our only meaningful source of competitive advantage. As we step up to our full responsibility as stewards of that resource, the line guys are going to be coming to us. We can’t let them down, and we can’t shy away from holding them accountable.
  7. Rules are for fools. We're tossing out the rule book. We're not hall monitors anymore, and most policies are written for the lowest common denominator. As we raise the bar and bring in better quality people, most of the ‘rules’ will become redundant. We're going to expect grownups to behave like grownups, or they're gone. Regardless of their title. Any questions?
  8. We're going to make pay-for-performance work. Forgive us if we insist that the best people who make the biggest impact make the most money.
  9. No more workarounds to make up for weak managers. Please see #1. Our job is to make our company work most efficiently, not to find ways to convince people to put up with weak, uninspiring leadership. We won't be making up policies to make up for bad managers, and we refuse to ask people to lower their standards. It's either up or out.
  10. We're going to put the "human" back in Human Resources. They're not numbers on a spreadsheet or "FTEs" that can be treated like a commodity. They're people, with fears and hopes and dreams. And for a few hours a day, they come to our place. We'll make sure that (along with #1) we remind ourselves every day that what we do is about people. Mediocre people = mediocre business. Great people = great business.

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