The HR profession loves talking about itself. But does all the self-absorption alienate the wider world?
The megalomaniac and the manic depressive have one thing in common: they cannot stop talking about themselves. With a boundless appetite for self-absorption, comparisons with other functions and its vaulting boardroom dreams, I often think the HR profession tends to be depressive. Too much of what is written and said about HR are really veiled justifications of its existence. Too many proclamations of its worth are heavily loaded with a subtext of doubt.
Of course, a mild dose of melancholy has often prompted great improvements for human beings, refining all their swagger and indifference to the world. So what does it do for a profession? In an attempt to answer this question, I shall call on two witnesses and an exhibit.
First up is David Longbottom, HR director of electrical retailer Dixons, who was recently elevated to the board. He argues that introspection is profoundly detrimental to any hope of being taken seriously by the wider business community.
"The obsession with measuring every facet of activity from training to absenteeism is really symptomatic of the uncertainty about whether HR should exist," he says. "I'm a mathematician by background and all this stuff about measurement does nothing for credibility."
A further sign of vulnerability is the distinction so often drawn between 'strategic' and 'administrative' or 'transactional' HR. This separation, says Longbottom, is "bollocks".
"I do not sit around all day thinking 'now, is this a strategic input?'. Competitive edge is gained just as much through the nuts and bolts of personnel - paying people properly, recruiting well and so forth."
Being on the board is handy for 'airtime' with the chairman, he concedes, but most strategic decisions are not taken at board level. Company boards are increasingly concerned with corporate governance, while executive committees take many of the critical decisions.
"At board meetings, finance gives a report and HR gives a report. It crosses no-one's mind whether my report is 'strategic'."
My second witness is Denise Kingsmill, head