In Defense of HR

What a surprise—another article on why HR is the root of all that’s evil and wrong with our organizations. It’s beginning to feel like if it’s a slow cycle or there’s nothing hot to write about, people just trot out a post on why HR sucks.

In case you missed it, in the July/August issue of the Harvard Business Review, Ram Charan writes how It’s Time to Split HR.  What really rankles me about these types of articles isn’t necessarily the content (in fact, what Charan proposes isn’t such a bad idea)—it’s the underlying tone that comes along with it… which typically goes something like “why HR should be more like X,Y, Z function…” or “HR people just don’t get it…” or my favorite, “why people in HR are just plain dumb.”  To me, most of these posts are the equivalent of being pushed around on the schoolyard, and it will keep happening as long as we let it happen and don’t stand up for ourselves. Sure, there are some interesting counterpoints to Charan’s post like What it Will Take to Fix HR but again, that’s assuming it’s broken in the first place.  To me, there’s one fundamental skill that would solve 90% of what people complain about.


– Confidence to tell the department head there’s no way he’s hiring person X because you know they’ll kill your culture.

– Confidence to use data and analytics to advance an initiative or to make a point in a meeting.

– Confidence to say “You’re damn right I care about how people feel” because you know “how people feel” drives engagement and productivity.

– Confidence to ask questions and not worry about whether or not you look “stupid.”

– Confidence to not to say yes to every request however tactical it might be because you know where you bring value.

– Confidence to say yes when the “rules” tell you to say no if it’s in the best interest of the business.

– Confidence to not always be straight-laced.  Sometimes you need to drop a good f-bomb to move the conversation forward.

– And finally, the confidence not to allow people to make snide comments or jokes about HR. You think the CFO would let people trash finance?

In my opinion, job one of an HR leader is to ensure that their team has the confidence that they can make a meaningful impact.  Just like in sports, believing in yourself and your team goes a long way towards achieving your goals.  We need to be creating the types of habits within our teams that reinforce confidence rather than undermining it.

FOT Background Check

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.


  1. David Berke says:

    Confidence certainly will help – especially if that confidence is grounded in real knowledge and skill.
    While I agree with what you are proposing, you still haven’t responded to the issue Charan points out at the beginning:
    CEOs want to rely on the skills of CHROs “in linking people and numbers to diagnose weaknesses and strengths in the organization, find the right fit between employees and jobs, and advise on the talent implications of the company’s strategy.”
    HR executives who come from line functions may be better at some or most of that because, if they have paid attention (and many don’t), they will have experienced first hand the impact of business decisions and strategy on talent.
    As for his solution, it has some appeal. But the “administrative” functions often are not strictly administrative and can provide insight to the other side of HR.

  2. The picture that goes with this blog tells it all! An additional view on Ram Charan’s HR provoking article can be found here:

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Maybe the Problem With HR Has Nothing to Do With HR At All
  2. #HRBuzz: Our favorite blogs from July - SumTotal Blog
  3. In Defense Of HR - openreq

Comments are now closed for this article.

Contact Us | Hire FOT to Speak | About FOT