HR vs. top and line managers: the dark side

The initial question that ignited the discussion was concerned with the start of remote work in the pandemic and why HR managers and organisations haven't mitigated the risk. But as it often happens, this question helped to discover more issues. That's the reason the initial post collected so many views and likes on LinkedIn.

Many agreed that the pandemic just showed how inefficient the HR function is. As Warren Buffet once said, "only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked".

Managers who are not happy with HR have the right to be so. But they should remember one thing:

Every time they point to the HR inefficiencies, they are unhappy with their own reflection.

HR works not better and not worse than any other function - marketing, finance, logistics, IT etc. But as it sewn into the fabric of business and is everywhere, HR is easy to be made scapegoats. That HR sometimes can't speak the language of business doesn't make things better for them.

One more thing. Unlike strategic business functions that don't use anything new - Balanced Scorecard was the last actionable management theory concept - HR evolves and changes.

So. let's discuss it in more detail.

Intermediate conclusions

In LinkedIn, most who participated in discussion agreed that:

HR are not able to operate on operational level, as they don't provide functional expertise and are not "trusted advisors" to employees. They also can't operate on strategic level as they can't be change leaders (they don't have tools to support change or can't use them) and they are not strategic partners as they don't offer additional value to business in making in more competitive.

Final conclusion

However, the final conclusion might seem paradoxical, but it has some roots in what was discussed:

In the next few years, more HR Directors would become CEOs.

Let's consider each statement - step by step.

HR as functional experts

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that many organisations operate not in the best possible mode, to say the least. Performance management is traditionally the area of HR responsibility, but many managers can't not to micromanage their reports all long meetings are now in Zoom.

HR as change leaders

There are two answers to the question "Should HR managers be prepared for remote working?"

Tactical one is simple - no, nobody could predict it would happen. The strategic answer is different - they should have had a plan. Competency standard for HR Business Partner has it clear:

Change leader - Project Management - Evaluates risks and opportunities for change

Change leader - Change communication - Ensure key stakeholders are committed to change

Remote working is a risk/opportunity on strategic level. On this level, risks/opportunities are reviewed by CEO. CEO relies on internal auditors that works with Audit Committee. Auditors usually can evaluate risks but often are bad at evaluating opportunities, for example the opportunity to increase efficiency by encouraging remote working.

Risks and advantages of remote working are in the area of organisational design. HR should have initiated these changes and some of them did just that.

HR as consultants

Many think that HR can't have a meaningful discussion with "business" - managers, employees and other stakeholders. The virtual discussion showed just that. It is a bit strange

Many in the people profession value themselves very high in interpersonal skills and think they use emotional intelligence and influence others.

Again, the Competency Matrix for HR Business Partner has very clear definitions:

Employee consultant - Open to collaboration - Forms working relationships with colleagues

Employee consultant - Individual support - Clarifies a problem/request - Helps to find a solution or asks experts

HR as strategic partner

Strategic partnership is a Holy Grail of HR. Dave Ulrich tries to persuade HR to be "more strategic" since 1997.

To be strategic, HR need strategic metrics. Yet, in Human Capital Index 2019- the list of metrics of HR efficiency - 99% of metrics are derivatives of number of employees or personnel costs.

These are metrics of old role of HR as a functional expert.

Но где метрики по инициированию, реализации и оценки эффективности изменений, раз уж есть роль «Лидера изменений»?

Where are the metrics on initialising, implementing and evaluating change if we have a role of Change Leader?

Where are the metrics on quality of mentoring and coaching of managers to their direct reports, if we have the Employee Counselor role?

This can go on. If we don't have metrics, we can't blame HR for not delivering value, as value should be measured. This gap between theory and practice can not be overcome overnight.

This is the root problem of HR function.

In the next article we discuss the ways HR professionals can use to transform their function: HR vs. top and line managers: the bright side.

Creating value

Traditionally the meaning of ‘value’ has been associated with the present value of expected future cash flows.

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