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HR: A strategic partner or a bunch of busybodies?

When thinking about the HR function there are contrasting viewpoints, and many of us have had vastly different experiences throughout our careers when dealing with HR. Some view HR as the function that you only pay attention to when you need things related to employee grievances, payroll, tax implications, or maybe ordering balloons for a birthday. Others are lukewarm, hardly interacting, and then there are those who equate interactions with HR to mean trouble. Pay cuts, terminations, and mountains of paperwork! ... But there are those lucky ones who have a mutually beneficial relationship with HR, in which they play a role of a strategic partner, sounding board, and all things people.

The truth is HR can be so many things depending on who is in the function, and the expectations set by leadership. If you have a process-obsessed automaton in HR leadership, you will be bound and gagged, being forced to adhere to HR models that haven’t changed much since 1992. Yuk!

On the other hand, if you are fortunate enough to have a strategic partner running the function who views the role of HR as serving the business strategy, you will then have a thought partner who looks at process, people practices, and infrastructure from the point of view of making people more able to function and less bound by bureaucracy.

In my view leadership needs to be honest and take a hard look at their HR function. Are the priorities and projects that are being worked on helping to implement business strategy and make things easier for employees to perform at their best or are they “HR for the sake of HR”, meaning that they serve no real strategy except (quite frankly) busy work and boxes to tick and show how much work is being done (quantity vs. quality).

I will leave it to you to think about your reality. But bottom line: If the projects, programs, and tasks you are focused on can be outsourced, automated, create more roadblocks, and are not directly linked to business strategy, then you should probably take a pause and ask yourself “what is the real value add here?”.

Don’t worry dear reader, I am not saying it’s all bad because I KNOW for a fact that the possibilities for HR to be strategic are truly endless, and that is exciting! But it is very easy to do the bare minimum and count that as a job well done.

We can and should do better. Be prepared to pivot. Become okay with stopping work that is no longer value add. And always, always question if what worked yesterday is still serving a purpose today.

Keep pushing, make difficult your friend, and embrace the unknown.


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