I remember when it was called Personnel Services. I kind of liked that description. The idea that the department concerned was meant to provide service and support to the workforce. It wasn’t a fashionable or glamorous place to work but the team there were unsung heroes, making sure people got paid on time, that they were moved, promoted, trained and posted correctly.
Personnel Services weren’t Business Partners or Internal Consultants. They weren’t project leads or champions for engagement. They weren’t even there for learning and development. You know why? That was our job. As line managers we were expected to be able to deal with everything that a diverse and challenging workforce needed. Whether it was development for promotion or disciplinary proceedings the buck stopped with the employing manager. It had to be a really gnarly case to warrant disturbing Personnel Services.
Don’t get me wrong – we were well taught. We had training that most managers now would die for. It was drilled in to us that as leaders we were there to serve our team. To care for them when they needed it, to cajole when necessary and sometimes to censure them. To do that we had to earn their respect, generally by showing respect as a starting point.
We didn’t expect Personnel Services to come and dig us out of the mire. If we made a mistake we were expected to fix it. To be fair we were given a lot of latitude but the organisation concerned expected us to make decisions, it didn’t expect to hold our hands through every step of a difficult case.
So when I read about HR staff agonising over processes, worrying about their relevance to the business and whether they should have a seat on the board I allow myself a wry chuckle.
When I hear carefree use of jargon and mystifyingly opaque terms (“onboarding” anyone?) I wonder where it all went wrong.
When I see employment tribunals and gagging agreements from another botched reorganisation I despair for the profession.
Let’s be clear – I’m not advocating a return to the bad old days of a faceless bureaucratic personnel department, dealing with pay and rations. I’m certainly not suggesting that we tear up hard won employee rights or consign HR departments to the scrap heap either. However, there has to be a better way.
I really don’t mind what you call yourselves, I certainly understand that there are several roles the modern HR team will be required to cover be they OD, L&D or just plain old day to day transactional stuff. What I will say though is this.
There is risk in everything you do. You cannot design a perfect process or always have an ideal outcome. Real life isn’t like that. It’s going to be messy and dirty and noisy. So stop worrying about the state of the nation! Instead, get out and about within your business, go and work alongside the operations team, on shift if necessary. Go and teach those line managers to do the legwork themselves. Take action, swiftly and decisively. Drop the corporate waffle and speak to people as humans. Earn respect by giving respect.
If you don’t then the directors, the CEO, the board are all going to wonder what you are there to do. After all, they have lawyers for the nasty stuff, finance teams to control pay and maybe a few trainers or even god forbid external consultants to do the development work. Let’s face facts here, we both know that what I’m outlining could happen and the organisation would be a poorer place for it – so what will you do? Get busy or get out of the way?