Would You Be Happy With No HR?

Paul Hebert Audacious Ideas, Change, HR

Today, if twitter is to be believed, (and there are many whom attribute gospel-like reverence to it) HR is focused on talent, technology and turnover. Throw in an employee experience or two and you’ve got the top 5 “issues” HR needs to address.

I have orbited HR for over 15 years, and if I step into the wayback machine, 15 years ago HR was concerned with… wait for it…  talent, technology and turnover and throw in “satisfaction” – what the hip cats today call experience or engagement.

But the point is, not much has changed.

And I ask why?

I’ve proffered that it hasn’t changed because we continue to look for silver bullets when a box of well-aimed rocks from a sling shot would work. I’ve speculated that we’ve listened too much to the consultant class who must constantly move the goal posts to create recurring revenue. I’ve put forth the lack of management training as a prime cause.

In other words, I feel like I’ve hit on almost every single reason why HR still has the same problems as it did 15 years ago. And yet here we are.

I wonder what I’m missing.

Then I ran across this quote from Upton Sinclair – who is most famous for his book “The Jungle” about the mistreatment of workers in the meatpacking industry:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

And that started me thinking.

Maybe. Just maybe the problem isn’t outside the walls of HR. Maybe it’s not the technology. Maybe it’s not the managers and their lack of training. Maybe the problem is the people in HR really don’t have a real reason to solve the problem. Could it be that the person in the HR mirror is the problem? Could that be happening without HR people even knowing it?

No Knowledge May Be the Best Knowledge

I ask because one of the things I do on the regular is help clients solve their sales and channel motivation problems. They come to me and ask, “Paul, how do I motivate my salespeople.?”

And to answer them, one of the first things I do is a collaborative group design process that includes brainstorming. But I always bring in a few people who have no vested interest in the outcome and arguably – have little real knowledge in the domain we’re looking at. I’m hoping to search for new ideas that those of us can’t see or imagine.

In other words, I bring in people whose salary doesn’t depend on the answers we might come up with.

I know that many HR pros will read this and get their dander up. I get that. Some of my clients also feel threatened when I suggest they may not have the best ideas or really know their target constituents as well as they think.

But before you cancel me think about it.

How would you put HR out of business? If you could only make a living by getting rid of HR what would you do? How would you structure its replacement? Would there need to be a replacement? What if you broke HR down into the smallest individual parts/tasks? Could those be outsourced to the employee? What if I had to choose my own insurance? If you had to create a company that would/could go direct to employee and eliminate their need to work with HR how would that work?

I googled re-imagine HR and at best they still talk about HR as a department that manages some repurposed activities that are in roughly the same lanes as before. I’d equate it to the type of “re-imagining” that took place when we invented the phone over the telegraph. While hugely incrementally better – not nearly the disruption in communication the internet created.

I’m saying re-imagine HR but don’t focus on improving it – focus on removing it.

And if you immediately go all defensive on that statement ask yourself why?

Is it because your salary depends on HR being there? Is 100% of your value tied to the HR department and not the outcome HR is supposed to be having? Ask yourself if you could put yourself out of business? And if yes. How would you do that.

That, Detective Spooner, is the right question.