Ten years ago, an article was written that caused quite a stir in the human resources community. The article was entitled “Why We Hate HR”, written by Keith Hammond in Fast Company Magazine.

Sure enough, there was quite a backlash in the HR community. Everyone was condemning what was in the article. But I remember reading it at the time and thinking, “It’s a shame, but all of this is true.”

Fast forward a decade later and I’m wondering, do we still hate HR? And if so, why?

I took another look at Mr. Hammond’s article and found that most of it, unfortunately, is still true.

I was at an event, a gathering of over a hundred HR people, on Valentine’s Day. I was looking around at how this group presented themselves and I saw people wearing cute sweaters and fun ties with hearts on them. It’s Valentine’s Day, after all!

However, how do you take someone seriously when they’re coming to talk to you about behavior change or disciplinary action when they have hearts on their tie or a Valentine’s sticker on their sweater? Are other executives in the office dressed like this?

This is just one example, but many others come to mind. I recently participated in a meeting attended predominately by people new to the HR profession. During introductions, one person said that her background was in social work. She moved into HR to prove that “not all HR people are mean.”

My initial thought was, “Well, that’s good for you, but…

“If you’re bringing the social worker approach to the business world, then that means that you’re not bringing a business approach.”

Therein lies the real challenge to HR.

For all the progress HR has made over the past ten years, one of the things I still hear from company leaders is that executives look for ways to work around HR and not with HR. They see HR as the rock in the road. What’s saddened me about that is that it’s an earned viewpoint.

HR folks have traditionally not been business players. They’re quick to say that they don’t get the respect they deserve. They’re quick to demand a seat at the strategy table and yet have done nothing to break down those barriers to show that they deserve to be at the table.

I realize I’m overgeneralizing here and this editorial does not apply to all HR people. But the fact of the matter is, the HR function needs to change. It’s not that everyone else needs to change and listen to HR. We need to change as HR professionals and really learn what it means to become a true business leader.

That means truly understanding the needs of our business. Not just the people needs, but the business needs as well. Where is the business going? What is its strategic imperative? How do we as HR folks fit into that? We all know that HR should not simply be viewed as an overhead department, but what are we doing to impact that perception?

When I challenge HR folks, I often get the reply that “management doesn’t want to hear that from me” or “my management team doesn’t care about HR.”

Two things pop into my head. One, that’s a shame. Two, what have you done to cause that challenge?

I know that sounds terribly pessimistic because I realize that there are some business owners and some executives that truly don’t value HR and no matter who is in the HR seat, they’re not going to change their minds.

 

However, speaking from my experience, I just have to wonder: how many HR folks are really their own worst enemy?

More recently, I was in a meeting where the organization was evaluating their HR processes, because they wanted to put some new technology solutions in place. The CFO told me he thought we would find that some of their processes don’t work. He didn’t even have a chance to finish his statement before HR jumped in and said “No, you won’t find that.”

I looked at HR and thought, “Wow. Either we’re really confident here, or we’re hiding something.”

We all have opportunities to learn. For HR to be that arrogant in a meeting and tell the CFO, “Yeah, we’re perfect” is a shame….and the death stare from the CFO confirmed what I suspected: he had no respect for the HR department.

Whether they are at for-profit companies, academic institutions or not-for-profit organizations, business leaders need HR professionals who are functionally knowledgeable and understand the business. As published in the book: “The Rise of HR,” HR leaders will be viewed as strategic partners who can help solve real problems if they:

Use the business or entity strategy to drive HR activities.

Understand the business and financial model.

Know what drives success for the business. Does business success depend on innovation, capital utilization, customer connectivity, service excellence?

Understand the business metrics (such as profit, margin, ROI, free cash flow productivity) and what drives them. For example, if your company uses Total Shareholder Return (TSR) as a key performance metric, the HR leader should know the specific metrics that drive TSR.

Determine the skills and capabilities that are needed to deliver the business strategies.

Identify the top talent and match them to business-critical roles.

Determine the organizational risks that could jeopardize the company’s business success.

Design organizations that deliver outstanding business results.

If you are in HR, start to consider how you can work on your skills to become a strategic business partner. If you’re in management, ask yourself how you can support HR in developing these skills. How you would use HR if you knew they had the skills to help you achieve your business goals? What could you accomplish together?