Kelvinwright's Blog

postmodern thoughts

Why we (no longer) need HR

I’m always interested to read about the present and future shape and structure of the HR department. I came across an article last week titled “Why we no longer need HR” *1 ; an article with a provocative title, that makes some good (although hardly groundbreaking) points, but which falls down on the very argument its title makes: it doesn’t advocate the ending of the HR department at all, even proposing to split it into different areas! This makes the article title seem like a tabloid newspaper grabbing headline.


The article argues that the very name: “Human resources” isn’t right: I agree – people are not a resource in the same way that a laptop, money, buildings, vehicles, etc. are, although a company’s talent and its key people are a resource, and as Josh Bersin *2 states in a counter article, both “human capital” and “talent” are now the number 1 issues on the minds of CEOs and company leaders – losing a key member of staff can be as damaging, or more so, than losing a key customer. The alternate names offered in the “we no longer need HR” article don’t improve things:

-“People Function” – are people nothing more than a function? I prefer the current title.

People Analytics team” – this reduces people to numbers that can be analysed. It sounds more like a team of external consultants brought in to evaluate statistics and fire those whose “analytics” don’t add up!


HR departments are trying to serve two masters – company and employees”. Isn’t this like Sales staff who also serve two masters?: customers and company – they shouldn’t do anything to the detriment of the company, or to the customers. Many of us have “two masters” in our jobs and it is something we must learn to balance.


HR must deliver value

One of the big problems for HR departments is measuring their contribution to the organisation and it’s something that they need to start doing right now. A marketing department can tell us how many people watched an ad the previous night; HR needs to wise up to this and measure (demonstrate) its value to the organisation. If a department cannot demonstrate the value it offers, then it may find itself a candidate for outsourcing in the postmodern organisation. Although outsourcing HR is not the answer. But it must be smarter.


-Are Line Managers, Sales Directors, Finance Managers, Managing Directors the right people to decide and implement the right compensation policy for attracting and retaining staff?

-Are Line Managers the right people to implement, roll out and lead performance evaluation policies?

-Are they the right people to put in place effective employee engagement policies and get to the core of employee retention issues?

-Despite high unemployment in many western countries, organisations still face a challenge attracting, motivating and retaining the type of talent they need – and Line Managers are not the right people to take this on.


A HR department is not at the creative end of the company, it doesn’t make products or design services, nor does it sell them. But then neither does the legal department, the finance department, or the IT department. There is not a successful company in the world that does not have a successful HR department. Successful companies have HR departments as separate divisions; in the same way that a Finance Director should not report to a HR Director, why do companies believe the opposite can work? Would a company really believe that a Sales Director could report to HR? If HR Managers report to other areas, then the people strategy changes: when it is lead by Finance, people become numbers, lines on a financial report that shows them as a cost. When HR reports to somebody with a sales focus, then people become the numbers they sell, with competencies and the “how it’s done” thrown out of the window.


To suggest, even in an article title if not in the main text, that companies do not need a HR department would leave the attraction, recruitment, development and retention of an organisations talent at the mercy of Line Managers and Directors. Do any of us believe that our Line Managers and Directors alone can do all of this? Can a world class company really recruit, manage and develop effectively without the professionals to guide and lead them?







November 25, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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