The Reinvention of Human Resources

If you check the ‘brochureware’ on my SLC website, you will see there is just one speaking topic listed for me with the word ‘Reinvention’ in it.

As much as we in business love to self-analyze and theorize, there is quite a bit we do right thanks to the very nature of free enterprise. We are subject to the market’s responsiveness to our business efforts where ultimately, the almighty customer rules.

However, while there is a wealth of intelligence, logic, and good intention in the operational processes we already claim to use, actual practice lags behind; we continually write about the flaws because we aren’t that great at doing our right things continually and consistently. We talk about them and document them rhetorically in mission statements, but those seemingly visionary documents are rendered meaningless when we fail to execute.

comes into play when the reasons we don’t execute well reveal root causes riddled with red flags: Ignoring our sacred cows may actually be wise. Yet if there’s a good reason we don’t do something, we shouldn’t stop at just ignoring it. Instead, let’s pay attention, dig deep, and get real about turning old thinking upside down and looking for a far better way. Let’s reinvent.

My current favorite for reinvention? Human Resources, and I couldn’t let our Ho‘ohana Community May Reinvention Forum skip by me this year without bringing my speaking topic here to Talking Story too.

First, I must say I always find that those who work in HR are good people who had initially entered Human Resources as their field of choice with a sincere desire to be the employee’s advocate, no matter what that position that person may hold —including managers. Therefore, I never wish to vilify them, just challenge them to the greatness they had once aspired to.  In their fervent wishes to be a service department they’ve unfortunately become doormats, far too complacent about asserting their ideas and assuming their responsibility for leadership.

Doormats. Think that’s harsh? Well, let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why I feel that HR is so ripe for reinvention.

When I am able to have HR Directors honestly assess their work over the last six months to a year, this is what we so often will discover:

  • The rules rule. HR departments create and seek to enforce restrictive rules way more than they seek to empower and mentor employees to make intelligent, independent choices. Ask how they coach people in decision making and you receive blank stares.
  • What little training offered is irrelevant. Here we are five years later, and many HR departments have not yet recovered from the cuts made post 9.11. If anything, only the ‘maintenance’ and litigation prevention training they had offered has survived, such as for workplace violence, sexual harassment, and hiring discrimination. Necessary perhaps, but easily and more cheaply outsourced. Lacking is the crucially essential grooming of talent which will increase the value of human capital in the company.
  • Financial literacy is normally missing completely, fully entrusted to those in Finance or Accounting. Further, there is very little interest in understanding business models or what makes a company self-sustaining. Little to no time is spent on benchmarking or helping employees develop an entrepreneurial mindset so they will be better prepared for their futures. And yet”
  • HR Directors claim they now have a “seat at the strategic planning table” with their executive teams, and I do find their CEOs or COOs have warmly welcomed there. However ‘welcomed’ is not the same as ‘engaged’ with them. I have yet to find the honest HR Director who will deny he or she is still used as the event planner for all the old reasons; their CEOs are not mentoring them as the strategically involved business partners they profess to want.
  • In addition to the order-taking and event planning, HR is still largely about social work and about being a do-gooder. Because of all the rules, managers in every other department of the organization are allowed, even encouraged, to be hands off from progressive discipline to recognition programs and everything inbetween.
  • Yet despite the meddling versus supportive coaching, HR is unable to effect any kind of workplace productivity improvements whatsoever. They continue to do FOR the rest of the management staff instead of doing WITH, and their ‘office staff’ positions get farther and farther away from where the work is actually done. Sadly, they no longer understand or identify with the very creation of the product and/or service the company depends on for its very sustenance.
  • “Train the trainer?” What is that? Consulting, coaching, training, learning, education and self-motivational development… is there really a difference? Ouch.

There is more, but do I really need to continue with this?

Let’s get to the good stuff instead: the reinventions. Where does HR need to be?

1. Stop being the employee’s advocate, and give that job completely to the managers who supervise them. Forge a brand new partnership and become the manager’s advocate instead, mentoring, coaching, and supporting those managers and emerging leaders to be the EVERYTHING they should be to the people they work with. Coach them to treat their employees as business partners and nothing less. Understand that clearly, the barriers to increased workplace productivity are largely management issues.

2. Number 1 includes recruitment, interview, selection and hiring, for these may be the most important jobs managers do. When they screw them up everything else gets tougher. When they score people wins, they build on their lessons learned and get better in identifying and grooming innate talent. You cripple managers by doing these things for them.

3. Assume responsibility for grooming Great Managers. Learn to do what I do and be a coach in leadership education. I’ll be blunt: If you don’t do this and abdicate the job to the executive level there is little reason left to have HR at all, for the rest of what you now do can be easily outsourced without any lack of quality assurance.

4. Become change agents like no others. Realize that ‘change management’ doesn’t cut it, for it is reactive and not proactive. You must go for the gusto with change leadership — initiate it! Boldly expose automatic pilot and sacred cows in organizational processes and blow them up! Get Restless, be Revolutionary, and Reinvent! (A suggestion you can start with: Initiate a Compensation Overhaul.)

5. Get out of your office. To do number 4 in the best possible way, jump into operations everywhere and get involved. Set an example of volunteerism for the rest of the organization, and learn how to be highly desired partners in increasing workplace productivity. Participate in the Lōkahi team approach, and help managers by bringing new project management platforms into operation’s consciousness.

6. Get financially literate — fast. Learn to love the analysis of business models, and introduce pilot programs that workplace teams can really sink their teeth into with you in an advisor’s role.

7. Number 6 includes mastering two kinds of HR metrics: those that help those you serve with their own accountability, tracking the effectiveness of the decisions they make, and those which measure the value which HR itself provides for the organization.

8. Please, please, please… Be more passionate! Talk about company values and value alignment constantly. Become customer evangelists. Stop being predictably safe and boring, and get excited and animated for a change.

The good news? You probably got into HR to be a ‘people person’ and this is still all about people. Despite the industry you are in, I’ll bet that all your competitors have the same technology, markets, and resources you do. The people who you have are the only differentiating factor; the talent you can groom is what gives your company its sustainable competitive edge. If that is where your contributions are felt, that is how the servant leadership you wish to provide becomes real and meaningful.

“Rosa Say has an incredible passion for helping leaders manage employees ”“ vision led, values driven, and bringing out the best in people.  That passion can motivate us to make the sometimes difficult steps to improving our management style.  A great coach!”

— Mark Hubbard, Program Co-Chair, Kauai SHRM Educational Foundation, and an HR person who heard the speech!

Related posts:

I think this was the first time I mentioned “reinventing work” here on Talking Story:

Among young people, our hope, our challenge
(October 21, 2004)

What’s the role of Human Resources? (October 23, 2004)

The 3 New R’s: Restlessness, Revolution, and Reinvention (May 10, 2006)

A Reinvention Revolution; 3 Sacred Cows to Start With (May 11, 2006)

Great Project to consider: A Compensation Overhaul (May 25, 2006)
Reinventions at Work and in Business: a Ho‘ohana Community Forum (May 26, 2006)


  1. says

    Carnival of Capitalists – Downunder Edition

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  2. V says

    The sporadic bolding, coloring, and italicizing on your entry are annoying, unhelpful, and distracting.
    But interesting entry ;-)

  3. says

    Bummer to think I annoyed you V, but hopefully the content of the post itself gave you some other things to think about too.
    Thank you for clicking in, and aloha,

  4. says

    Human Resources ”“ Change Leadership Advocates?

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