No one really cares about Human Resources, and now HR is mad

Human Resources And Strategic Value

2015 saw a 7 percent drop in those who believe HR plays an important role in their organizations.

Just over half of HR professionals (55 percent) are happy with the way their HR team is perceived by the rest of the business—a drop from 58 percent in 2014.

“This can infuriate HR professionals who believe the role of HR is central to the success of the business and a vital department to ensure business success,” the report authors wrote. “HR professionals, especially senior ones, are generally not satisfied unless they are driving change, having an impact and seeing improvements. They are not good at maintaining the status quo and so can be quite restless if HR is seen as not core business and a ‘support’ function.”

That quote is from here, which is ultimately a summary of this study.

How does this impact my life? In quite a few ways.

Allow me a personal tangent for a moment.

I was totally a fucking mess and adrift in my life around 2011. I had a job I mostly hated, a boss who couldn’t give two shits, and the only good aspects were my girlfriend (now wife) and a strong core of friends in Astoria (Queens/NYC). In hindsight, I realize having a strong significant other and a cadre of friends is really important, because right now I have the significant other but lack the cadre of friends in my current city, and that has its own challenges.

My idea was to go to business school, but an MBA costs a lot of money, and I didn’t want to end up in finance or consulting or something. I was interested in how people work, how you motivate people, etc. I was naive and thought the best approach would be an HR program, so I went to University of Minnesota for that. It’s a fairly high-ranked program within that ‘HRIR’ field. I started this blog while I was there, and I learned about the pros and cons of different workplaces, but overall it was a pretty shitty experience. I didn’t like most of the classmates, I didn’t like most of the professors (we had two professors who basically barely showed up and I now have about $30K in debt, so that’s fun), and it took me forever to get a job. Ultimately, of course, I didn’t get a job in HR, so I feel like the program was an even bigger waste of time and money. Plus, I was an emotional basket-case for a lot of it thinking I fucked up my wife and I’s life.

Things do tend to work out, though, and my current situation is broadly fine. So it’s all good.

But one thing I learned in this HRIR program is that, in general, “senior business leaders” at companies don’t give two shits about Human Resources as anything other than a support function, even though every HR executive you meet will drop the words “… seat at the table…” within about 45 seconds of the initial meeting.

It’s logical that no one really cares; most current senior management types came up in an era when Human Resources was basically “Personnel” or “Secretarial Pool V2.” (There are, I believe, still way more women in HR — at least in the United States.)

You would think this would be a time when HR would mean more: after all, you have Boomers retiring (workforce planning), you have all these ideas about Big Data (people analytics could be a great way to gain traction), and people are experimenting with ideas around motivation and work such as holacracy (which, admittedly, has flaws).

And yet, even at a time when HR should be rising up as more than a cost center, you have HR executives saying they feel worse about their jobs?

That shouldn’t be the case.

I’ve written a lot about Human Resources in the past — check out a few here, here, here, and here — so I won’t go on some huge elaboration in this post.

Here are the basic concerns I see, and admittedly some of these are generalizations:

  • The types of people that enter Human Resources: HR is a great way to make a really good salary while mostly doing transactional work (not saying it’s not hard). There are limited opportunities for “transformative” work. As a result, you don’t often see that major go-getter and transformative figure heading towards HR. (Periodically, you do.) If HR wants to become a revenue center on people analytics, which it has done at some companies, you need smart people that understand how to parse data and then how to communicate that data to the CFO-types. I went to the third-best or second-best or whatever HR graduate program in America. You know what? With 6-10 exceptions, it was all lazy, dumb shits who bitched when a paper was extended from 6 pages to 8. I don’t see that really pulling HR up to “seat at the table” status.
  • HR is too much about putting out fires: Every job in the modern world, to an extent, is about putting out fires. (I put one out just yesterday!) But HR seems to get more of this than anyone, because C-Suite people kick down the dumbest personnel shit ever to HR (I’ve seen this repeatedly happen at numerous places, so this is not a generalization). HR people get too buried in the day-to-day, even moreso than Accounting or Marketing or Product people. I think that makes it harder to really think long-term about where their strategic value could lie.
  • The Internal Affairs Aspect: It’s very hard for a division of a company to be viewed as “seat at the table” worthy when they’re also the division of the company who supposedly monitors performance (although that typically sucks) and is involved with firing you/telling you complaints made about you. Who wants to get in strategic bed with the same division that can can your ass, you know?

The biggest thing to me is still the mindset — the guys (mostly guys) running American companies right now have always seen HR this way, so it’s going to take a generational shift for anything to change. Problem is, millennials with power will start acting just like Baby Boomers with power. So HR might have a long path to that oft-sought “seat at the table.”

Any thoughts on HR and its evolution? Leave ’em in the comments or message me via the contact form.


Ted Bauer


  1. It seems to me that most HR departments outsource everything they’re supposed to do themselves. This explains the exponential increase in third-party recruiting firms. I understand the need for outsourcing for a very particular job skill or set of skills, but most jobs nowadays aren’t THAT much of a niche, even though the average job description may read like it.

    Sourcing for a common job title like “Business Analyst” shouldn’t require a series of committee hearings and multiple third-parties. It’s not a needle in a haystack. If you need an Anesthesiologist with an MBA who has 15 years experience managing a $1B business who can program in Perl/Pig/SAS/Hive/Pig/SQL and who can juggle at least 4 bowling ball pins simultaneously while breathing fire, yeah, you might need to call the cavalry.

    • This kind of goes back to the idea that “headcount” = something to instantly cause you to run around like a chicken without a head and the idea that in America, when a relatively simple thing that can be done by 1 person arises, we need to get 12 people involved. (See: consultants, presence of.)

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