HR Doctor: Easy Way Outosis

Personnel Today’s HR doctor Nick Holley diagnoses some diseases common to HR and suggests the cures that might restore it to health.

Easy Way Outosis


  • HR does HR because it likes people rather than business.
  • HR is timid, driven by the need to be liked as opposed to respected.
  • HR lives for the crumbs of appreciation and recognition that ‘real’ business people sometimes drop from the top table.
  • HR avoids conflict, never says no or challenges.
  • HR works with the easy people, the people who share its passion, rather than the people with the power or the ones who will have the biggest impact on business results.
  • HR is politically naïve, or even worse is driven by a higher political agenda (with a small P) to make the world a better place rather than supporting the business. They would like the world to be as they are, or as they would like it to be, rather than accepting the world as it is and operating appropriately.


  • HR lives in a box, rolled out when an HR issue arises. The HR person jumps out does their stuff but is then forced back into the box whilst the agenda moves back to business issues. People like the HR people who live in the box, because generally they’re really nice people, but no one quiet knows how they add value beyond providing a keep out of jail card.
    At best they are marginalised so important people related issues aren’t raised and addressed. At worst they are seen as a nuisance driving an altruistic agenda that alienates them from the business and usually results in them preaching their message from outside the tent.


1 I remember running an HR programme in Russia. At the end I asked people to reflect on their personal takeaways: the first person stood up and said she realised she’d been speaking to the wrong people. She’d been speaking to the people who shared her passion for HR, the people who ‘got’ the people agenda and the people who were easy to deal with because they were generally nice people. 

Her key learning point was that these weren’t necessarily the right people to speak to. The people to speak to were the ones who had the biggest impact on the bottom line, the people who had the real power, the movers and the shakers. The problem was they often didn’t get HR and in many cases were ‘bastards’.  She had seen this as their problem not hers but now realised this was her biggest problem. She needed to find reasons to work with them and ways to build credibility with them, because if her job was to create value she had to work with the value creators.

2 One organisation whom I admire and have worked with talk about ‘HR with attitude’. They see the customer as the organisation and the shareholder not just the management. They encourage HR people to push back in an acceptable way. The acceptable part is important; it’s not just about saying no but about helping the line understand the risks and implications of their actions. Indeed the challenge is curing your ‘easy way outosis’ without suffering an attack of ‘dominance pathology’!


A lot of this comes down developing HR’s political acumen:

  • Working out who the movers and shakers are. This means actively mapping out where the power lies and who has the biggest impact on the bottom line.

  • Understanding their agendas, recognising that the best idea is the idea the person you are trying to influence just had. It’s better to listen to their problems and fix them than try to sell your problems. Better to gain credibility first and use this to challenge the business around people related business than being ignored as irrelevant.

  • It means running with the grain of management thinking. Running against it usually results in the white blood cells ganging up on the diseased organism and rejecting it.

  • However a word of warning: HR still needs to be the ‘moral compass’ for the business. It needs to raise important issues, but those who suffer from ‘easy way outosis’ do this in a naive way that undermines their credibility and means these issues are never addressed with potentially serious consequences (some would say HR in some institutions during the recent credit crunch took the easy way, getting too close to management rather than building their credibility to the point where people listened to their concerns).

By Nick Holley, director of the HR Centre of Excellence at Henley Business School. The centre works with members from the private, public and third sectors to change the debate around HR; carrying out applied research aimed at advancing current thinking, and delivering programmes to enhance the quality of business and partnering skills for senior and high-potential HR professionals.

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