Regional HR Models Suck

Laurie Ruettimann Bad HR, Good HR, HR, Laurie Ruettimann

I have been a regional HR leader more times in my life than I care to admit.

Early in my career, I was a “regional HR generalist” because I was the only person who didn’t have kids and could travel. It helps to be born in 1975 and part of a department where most women were baby boomers. I had no competition in my early 20s.

Then I was promoted to regional HR manager, and I ended my career doing an interim gig as a regional HR director at Pfizer. By regional, it meant that my name was listed in our HRIS as the primary contact for every employee unaffiliated with a vertical business unit who worked outside of New York City.

That’s a mouthful, right? Well, thanks to our regional model, there were thousands of workers who didn’t roll up to the local HR departments in one of our three primary business units (manufacturing, research or sales). Somehow, they defaulted to me.

So that’s my dumb career story that you probably didn’t read. Here’s what I learned.

  1. Most regional HR models are broken systems designed to appease a political agenda that makes no sense to anybody outside of the people who designed it. Let’s say a local HR professional works with a local recruiter, OD specialist and admin staff. Let’s also say she reports to a local business leader. You know what sucks? Asking her to also report to a regional HR leader for the sake of being linked back to the business. Can’t we tackle that another way?
  2. Most regional HR models are thankless. Go ahead and ask that regional HR professional to manage someone in the field with only dotted-line authority while trying to “manage up” to HR and executive-level interests. It’s a matrix that is doomed to fail.
  3. Most regional HR models don’t make sense to employees. There is always that one employee who asks, “Where do I go to change my address on my paycheck?” Dammit, you go to the online HR portal. Why don’t they ever understand that? Oh, that’s right, because regional HR management models make everything more complicated and confusing.

So what I’m telling you is simple: the only HR that matters is local HR. If you can flatten your HR hierarchy, flatten it the hell out with a rolling pin. And, while you’re at it, keep the employee in mind as you structure your HR department.

All too often, HR leaders want to provide exemplary service but forget about the employee. I once had an American expat worker based in Tunisia call me from a satellite phone with a question about benefits for his family who lived stateside. Not only did I have to google Tunisia and find it on a map, but I also had to tell this poor soul that I had no idea how to solve his problem. Then I spent my entire day trying to find a solution and identify someone in the region to help communicate this information.

There has to be a better way to do HR. The wimpy cop-out of a regional HR model with several levels of highly-matrixed relationships has to go for the sake of HR, but more importantly, for the sake of our employees.

Laurie Ruettimann is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur based in Raleigh, NC. She’s working on her next book about fixing work due out in 2020.