Adding Value

Imagine a world where HR isn't necessary.

That world is closer than you think.

Organizations are like Legos, constantly shifting and changing shape as pieces are added and removed in the original version of Transformers. Nothing stays the same very very long.

Human resources in the US is slightly over 100 years old as a discipline. Our origin was in counting heads and productivity – piece rate – as America embraced and then devoured the Industrial Revolution. That's right folks: HR essentially started as bean counters.

Those of you who got into HR because you're “no good with numbers” pay heed.

Over time we've added roles: Industrial Hygiene & Safety was one of the first followed immediatlely by Labor Relations. Why? These areas cost employers money – we were there to manage that and reduce costs. Business needed us.

We grafted Compensation, then Benefit Administration, Recruiting and ultimately Motivation and Organizational Behavior onto our mantle. At every step employers sanctioned these evolutions in our makeup because we stayed true to our DNA: we were helping to drive success through the intelligent management of employees.

We find, develop and retain people

My message to you today is that both that sanction and clarity are slipping away.

Over the last several decades we've lost sight of where we came from and what we do.

Long ago many of us divorced ourselves from Industrial Hygiene forgetting that worker's well-being in a physical sense is every bit as important as their mental and emotional health.

Many of us have outsourced Benefits, Payroll and other “transactional” functions almost spitting the word out as if it were something to be shunned. Some of us no longer even do our own Comp analyses leaving it to the “experts”.

OD is an area few embrace as the science is still relatively new and a lot of us just don't understand it. Yet orgnaizational behavior is inexorable and as constant as the air we breathe.

In many cases we made sighifcant functional change in a futile attempt to ape the ephemeral “best practice.”

How do we add value?

More than a few HR teams I've consulted with felt the need to announce early on all the things they don't do: a litany of roles and services they no longer perform because they were too busy being “strategic”. That's fine. If you no longer do things you consider lower value so you can now do things that are higher value you've just switched out a Lego and things should be better.

Are they?

The point is this: every function, including HR, has a core value. A role and purpose they alone are best positioned to play. If the organization doesn't see your core value how are you adding any?

HR's fundamental role is finding, developing and retaining people. That's what we do. And there's a lot inherrent in that.

Developing our brand, creating the right rewards package, managing performance, building pipeline and so much more.

Yet, if we continue to outsource and give away the components of that role in order to do something else we run the risk of self-elimination – unless that “something else” is perceived not only as valubale but as essential by our firms.

By all means, delegate and transfer responsibilities that can be done effectively elsewhere. Just ask yourself as you do what is my role? What do we do?

We have to ask that question with searing honesty.

Others do.



9 thoughts on “Adding Value

  1. Spot on Christopher – a HR dept. and it’s members knowing where it sits (collectively and individually) in the internal value chain is critical…. I’m not sure how many can do that successfully and how many are regarded as valuable or indispensible as a result…

    • Yes, I’m afraid so… If any function, and HR is no different, doesn’t understand its place and value in that chain, trouble is in the offing

      • Exactly! The question is though, is there a reasonably straightforward method/process/series of activities to get there that works across industry lines and business types? Right now, I’d say no, which itself opens up a whole other can of worms for HR as a function…

      • Absolutely – I think this is the critical challenge facing HR right now (that said, it’s been facing HR since the verdict on Ulrich emerged, if not before)…

        It’s interesting to see the 3 or 4 activities in this space all exploring this broad area. In the UK there’s the CIPD HR Hackathon, Engage for Success and Training Journals’ L&D2020 project. Stateside, I’ve come across the Frontier Project, but not much else – have you seen anything similar?

  2. Kudos, awesome analysis of our field. Your point about self-elimination is so true. Many of us have bought the company line as it relates to outsourcing (whether internally or externally) some of our functions. I feel that companies are “getting” us to eliminate ourselves.

  3. I definitely think there’s a place for outsourcing – its neither good or bad in and of itself. But when we outsource core functions, what is the purpose of that? Food for thought…

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