Perceived lack of business skills causes lack of respect for human resources directors in the boardroom

Why do human resources (HR) professionals tolerate a general lack of respect from the rest of the business?

‘Making HR a more respected profession’ was the title of Personnel Today’s HR Directors Club workshop last week, sponsored by ADP. Our speaker – HR consultant Paul Turner, formerly general manager (people) at West Bromwich Building Society – recounted that when he moved from a senior operational role in the business to head the HR function his ‘worth’ in the eyes of other senior managers suddenly plummeted. Colleagues looked at him differently he just wasn’t respected as much as before.

The workshop delegates – all senior HR professionals – nodded and laughed nervously in acknowledgement and agreement.

But if this kind of ‘looking down their noses’ attitude is rife in organisations, why does HR put up with it? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Solutions discussed at the workshop were to have a window on the wider world, instead of quoting the book any time the business wants some creative HR input. Yes, get all the admin ticking over nicely, but work with the business on issues of strategic importance to its objectives and its growth. Another suggestion was to get experience of line management or other operational roles. In short, to be a business person first and an HR person second.

Whether HR people already have these business skills – or whether they are prepared to acquire them – is another matter, however.

The fact that Henley Management College had to cancel its new MSc programme in advanced HR management due to lack of interest is, according to the college’s principal Chris Bones, because HR professionals aren’t prepared to invest the time, or that organisations just don’t give a damn. Either way, this is disappointing and short sighted.

As organisations strive to find more efficient and flexible ways of working, which HR people will be of more value – those who know admin, or those who know the business?

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