HR must aim to do itself out of a job

Call it what you will: HR down the line, a fully embedded people culture, utopia. But the truly successful HR departmentis the one that renders itself redundant.

The only agenda that HR should ever have is that of so firmly embedding sound people practices in our line managers’ way of working that they eventually don’t need recourse to specialists. Anything else is job creation.

A truly successful HR strategy is that which becomes so fully ingrained into the culture of the company, and ‘the way we do things around here’, that a separate HR department is no longer required to steer, monitor and measure it, let alone report back to the board on the value that it adds to the bottom line.

Let me give an example: selection. Love it or loathe it, this, coupled with recruitment, tends to be one of the stalwarts of the HR offer; but why? Is it because we in HR are the only individuals with any sense of reasonable judgement about people, so we simply have to be involved? Is it because we don’t trust our managers and directors not to put their feet in it with a swift “so, how old are your children, and how is that going to impact on the travelling you will need to do in this job?”. Or is it simply because we’ve always done it this way, and our managers like us to hold their hands, or even to share the blame in the event of a poor choice?

Isn’t the time spent on repetitive interviewing better used training our managers to ask the right, probing, insightful and ethically sound questions? Isn’t it better spent furnishing them with highly transferable skills, rather than keeping our managers in check?

I apply the same principle to the whole disciplinary and grievance process. This is a management task, albeit one of the less savoury variety, but a management task nonetheless.

So who will ‘do’ HR strategy? Bed-in a culture and a way of operating that genuinely demonstrates that people are a valuable asset, rather than write a company manual that pays lip service to it, and you won’t need to. The needs of our people, as opposed to ‘human resources’, will naturally be incorporated into strategic planning across the board.

An expansion plan will not only include headcount changes and IT requirements, but also training needs, change management and communication plans. Talent management – forwant of a better term – would be a given, as much a management key performance indicator as budget control and sales targets.

So how to achieve this brave, new, HR-less world? I am not recommending a straightforward shift to outsourcing here. That just perpetuates the situation, allowing managers to continue to compartmentalise their thinking about their responsibilities towards their people. Why do we do it? We wouldn’t give our widget makers widgets to make and then let them outsource the core components, would we?

I guess if I had all the answers, I’d have achieved my ambition and done myself out of my own HR role by now. So, how should I practise what I preach in the meantime?

At the risk of over-simplifying what I know is a big issue, this for me is about tasking myself and my colleagues to practise in a way that dispels any of the mystery that seems to surround our discipline. Our role is to impart our knowledge, facilitate experiential learning, furnish our customers/business partners/managers (call them what you will) with the necessary skills, and then let them fly. And, once they have flown, we must resist the temptation to fill the nest again, purely out of habit.

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