There’s some healthy debate going on right now about the value of HR, what we should call it, and whether companies really need it at all. In his article titled “Why We No Longer Need HR Departments,” Bernard Marr has suggested that HR is dead, and companies should do away with it altogether. Josh Bersin on the other hand, in his article titled “Why We Do Need the HR Department” states “human resources professionals solve some of the most important problems in business today” (an opinion with which I tend to agree). Interestingly, while both authors are coming at it from different angles, after reading their articles I was surprised to see that they are actually saying many of the same things.
Marr suggests that we should do away with the HR department, and reinvest in the “people function” which focuses on attracting, retaining and developing people; Bersin agrees that while the HR name might be antiquated, research shows that we need strategic HR professionals to hire and develop leaders within the organization. Ultimately, there is agreement that companies need people who are focused on creatively tackling the challenges of finding good candidates who are a fit for the organization from both a skills and a cultural perspective, engaging those people early on, finding ways to motivate them, and making sure that they are growing in their careers all while contributing to a strong bottom line.
Think about highly successful companies. What do they have that can’t be “bought?” They have employees who are ambassadors for the company because they believe in it. Those employees promote the company brand and culture without being told to do so, and they recruit their talented friends to join in and be a part of it. You can track metrics and do predictive analysis all day (and there is certainly a place for that), but ultimately successful businesses are about engaged people. Just one bad employee – particularly if it is a leader in a small company – can quickly turn the tide and blow all of your well-designed metrics.
For many years, I worked as the sole “HR person” in a technology company. If you want to find a group of people who are skeptical and difficult to win over when it comes to buying in to HR, just put yourself in a room full of software engineers. Personally, I’ve never written a line of code, never run a daily scrum meeting during a sprint, and have never been responsible for identifying, troubleshooting, and debugging system errors. But I have successfully hired, managed, motivated, rewarded and retained technical people who found me to be a credible advocate for them, as well as a strong proponent of the business. Why? Because I chose never to hide behind my HR title. To be taken seriously, people in HR or any other function within a company need to understand the business from end-to-end. This doesn’t mean each person needs to be an expert in every function – it just means that we need to take the time to understand the other functions and how they relate to the business as a whole. As HR people, this affords us the opportunity to create programs and initiatives that are both relevant and effective.
Regardless of what we choose to call them, companies will always need creative thinkers who can design and facilitate effective programs that attract, retain, motivate and develop people. I once heard someone say in another context that people tend to spend too much time arguing about the “minors” instead of agreeing on the “majors” and working towards progress, and I couldn’t agree more. So go ahead, call me HR. As long as you believe I’m doing work that moves the business forward I can take it. I’ve been called worse.