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Abolish HR!

Abolish HR!

HR isn't HR anymore. Abolish HR! regroup, strategy, HR

This might sound like a controversial statement. However, I believe it is true.

Many of us senior practitioners recall the shift from personnel back office to human resources. As I travel and visit HR teams and as I talk to other professionals in the field I remain amazed at how much old-fashioned personnel is still being practiced.

For the past decade or better the HR clamor has been to be invited to “the table.” Do we really need an invitation? Is that really where we make our impact?

It really does not matter what terminology we use. The bottom line is the new HR. Human resource practitioners must pay attention to the bottom line. We need to do more than just ask questions. We need to partner with front line leaders to deliver solutions.

For me, the worst connotation about good old-fashioned personnel is that personnel were seen as part of the back office, not connected to front line operations. A place to delegate, relegate, even to blame, but not part of operational decision making.

For me, the problem with the desire to be at “the table” is a similar implication that a failure to be invited to the table somehow connotes a separation from front line operations.

What does any normal and customary human resources function do? We work the people side of the business. What do our front line leaders do? They take care of people. What is the difference? So, where do we draw the line? Where are the real human resources today?

I don’t care if I sit at the table or not. I don’t care if you call me human resources, personnel, human capital, talent management, or something else. Getting wrapped up in these terminology debates is a distraction. All we need to do is focus on what makes our company effective. It is our people. Our employees. Our staff. Our associates. Use whatever term you like the best. It is all the same thing. People drive all of our companies.

I believe the fork in the road confronting human resources today is simple — and it is staring us right in the face. Add value in the most effective way possible. Now.

Here is where I think the opportunity lies. There is a program component to what human resources does. And, there is an employee support component. There are the two paths. Let’s acknowledge they are separate and distinct and take action accordingly.

Put your program piece in the back office. Better yet, outsource it. You don’t need a horde of people to run employee programs. In fact, you can buy employee programs for much less than it costs you to develop them on your own. Then customize them.

I have worked for several large, multi-company corporations and one FTE can run a leadership compensation program for a 3,000 employee firm or for a 15,000 employee corporation. Move a few knowledgeable HR FTEs into the back office. Or, better yet, outsource them.

Put the employee piece in your front lines. Don’t mix and match the back and the front. Here, put your largest cadre of human resource professionals. And, carefully define their roles. These professionals are charged with assisting and supporting front line leaders, department heads, directors, division chiefs, and other leaders. These human resource professionals extend the capacity and capabilities of your front line leaders. They are not additional, supplemental administrative support.

They do not the job of your leaders; however, they work to empower, to educate, to train, to coach, to advise, to counsel and consult with leaders. And, let your leaders do their entire job, engaging directly with their employees.

In today's market place, skill sets are diverging. Programs are getting more complex. People issues are getting more complex. Set your team and your company up for success. Put the back office people in the back office. Put them off-site. Get them out of the way.

Put your people-people in the trenches, on the front lines. Let them sit side by side with your front line leaders. Put them on-site. Put them in the way.

Decision making, path, careerThat’s the fork in the road. Few see it. The bean counters want us to bundle. There is a false sense that we can save salaries by having the back office human resource staff spend part-time work crunching numbers for employee programs and part-time work consulting with leaders. Do this and you may save some salary, and you will get short changed.

Look for this fork in the road and push teams down the correct path. Put the right people in the right places. Let’s get radical. Get rid of the HR office altogether. Why is it needed?

Put your back office staff off-site in a shared location, and keep this group small. Support multiple companies by grouping teams across companies or facilities. Some call these shared service centers, or centers of excellence, or just corporate. It does not matter what you call it. Just get these people together, keep the group small, and leverage their time and talent across as large a set of employee groups as possible.

Put your front office people in with leaders and employees on the line. Keep this group as large as your financials allow. This is where you will get the greatest return for salary spent. Drive leadership capacity. Drive employee engagement. Drive customer loyalty.

The irony of today’s approach is that we pay the compensation expert a nice six-figure income, and expect that professional to have 10 or more years of experience. And, we pay the front line consultant mid-five figures, and we are willing to put a recent college graduate in there; sometimes alone.

This is all backwards. So, get rid of HR. Let’s stop what we are doing and turn it all around.

Pay the front line business consultants well. This is where human resources become a part of operations. This is where human resources can have the greatest impact on the company bottom line.

Over the years, I have read many articles where others (no-HR types) have recommended the removal of HR, mostly because they did not like HR and thought they could do HR better. Maybe, maybe not.

However, be honest with yourself. How many human resource professionals spend most of their time in the office and wait for others to visit them? It’s probably a lot more than we are comfortable to admit.

Here’s an example that rings true to me. Recently, working with a large regional organization, members of the senior team intentionally stated that managers and other leaders did not need to know about employee pay. In fact, any reports to leaders that indicated what an employee was being paid were eliminated. Of course, during the normal course of each day, any number of employees had questions about their pay. These employees were referred to human resources. A back office human resource practitioner would field and try to assist these employees. Employee concerns about pay, how pay questions were handled, whether or not equity existed, and how annual adjustments were determined all directly affected many employees, many work areas and many front line leaders. Rather than empowering the leaders to work through these issues with employees, resolution was relegated to a back office compensation practitioner.

At another organization, the approach was different. Leaders were educated about the company pay plans. All leaders had access to information on their employees, tenure, performance and pay. Human resources coached these leaders on how to address pay issues. Only the most complex issues were directly relegated to a compensation expert.

Which organization had low employee engagement? Which had high employee engagement?

The key concept is not about employee pay — that is just the example. Think about all the other issues that are important to employees. In the organization that empowers its leaders, the employees are taken care of by their immediate supervisors. The employees have a much higher level of trust in their management team, and, therefore, a higher level of trust in any number of other issues related to what the company is doing.

A little bit of additional information: the company with empowered leaders also has empowered employees. At this company the employees runempower, engagement, employees the employee recreation association, they run the employee recognition events, they contribute to the employee newsletter, they run an employee suggestion program, the annual BBQ, the photo contest, the art show, coordinate involvement in community events — you get the idea. Oh, they buy and wear, voluntarily, company branded clothing. In short, these employees are empowered to do more than crank out widgets. At the other company some back office human resource practitioner does this for employees, and participation is meager — and it is difficult to even give away company branded polo shirts.

The company with the empowered leaders and employees is better staffed, there are fewer holes in the schedule, there is less overtime, fewer absences, employees are more engaged, customer satisfaction is higher, turnover is lower, there is less waste in the work place, fewer injury claims, and a sense of pride in belonging to the company.

That is your ROI: We all know engaged teams deliver a much greater return — fiscally and in terms of customer loyalty — across a broad number of metrics.

We don’t need a new table, an invitation or new terminology. We need to get in the trenches and work side by side, hand in hand with those leaders that impact the day-to-day operations of the company.

The next level for human resources is the abolishing of human resources and embracing the people side of front line operations.

Questions to ponder:

Do you have human resource staff in the trenches today?

Do you purposely separate human resources back office work from operational engagement?

Do you coach your leaders to handle 90% of employee issues and only relate a very small percentage to a back office subject matter expert?

Are you putting strategies in place to leverage human resources to drive operational excellence?


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Philip Espinosa partners with people to deliver value: People | Partnerships | Value serves as his tag line. As a strategic human resources leader, he believes that service starts with the customer. His book "Deliver Excellent Customer Service with a SNAP” helps others drive customer engagement using simple and consistent communication strategies. A second book titled "Focus On Your Success - 24 Simple Insights To Drive Daily Achievement" (ebook) helps working professionals view their daily choices through a different perspective. In addition to his writing, Philip works with strategic human capital initiatives and has delivered successful results over a career spanning more than 25 years.

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  1. So TRUE! I have been working as HR for 15 years. One of the things I would advise about and speak louder is the key note of the article you share which is EMPOWER managers. Having worked consistently in developing and empowering young managers, as the head of the HR department, we have measured the impact in the level of employee engagement. Bottom line it is the managers who decide about who to hire, who are able to estimate strengths and areas of development in their direct reports, who suggest on their training needs, who coach and advise employees on daily basis, who work together with their direct reports to set yearly performance objectives and who measure progress made towards those objectives, who in case of non performance work with HR to terminate certain staff, who suggest about staff well being.. ….etc. For managers to perform effectively and to become leaders of people they supervise, HR-s should contribute to empower managers with an HR mindset. This is achieved ( as article pinpoints) by being in the front line and providing constant advice, coaching, training, counseling …to Managers. Thank you for sharing. It made me feel good to notice confirmation of something I have seen happening and a pressing need for HR department role, to perform on.

    • Thanks for your comment. One of the major themes I have been pushing for a long time as a human resource professionals is that HR is not the primary gate keeper. As internal consultants we can extend leadership capacity using coaching and other strategies. However, traditional human resources is not front line operations. Day to day decisions get made on the front line. Let’s take the next step and put human resources on the front line.


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