How can HR put the Human back into Human Resources?

“We are not perfect human beings, nor do we have to pretend to be, but it is necessary for us to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.”

With the world of work evolving at a rapid speed; the introduction of new technologies, increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion, as well as a more modern approach to leadership to name but a few. They all present new challenges to organisations, but if businesses are turning to new ways of working, then how can we make better use of our people?

Many HR departments and professionals are debating this very subject. When I first started in HR, my first role was as an HR Administrator, creating contracts of employment and printing off employee handbooks. One of my concerns with increased automation is the lack of entry level HR roles that may be available in the future, how can we attract people into our profession when the roles simply don’t exist? Could HR possibly be facing its own skills shortage in the future?

The answer is well potentially… We all know that HR people can be tricky to please especially within the recruitment stages, so one key element that you can almost guarantee that will be top of the wish list, is customer facing skills. Whilst customer service is not a primary function of HR, those entry level roles will deplete, and therefore a new entry level is created which is most likely to be a people facing role, so they’ll not only have to hot the ground running, they’ll also need to own those people focussed skills.

We often hear the phrase “the future of HR is a people centred strategy.” Whilst this is most certainly true, it is important to remember that this is not just a strategy based upon people within organisations, it is about how the organisation involves everyone within it to work together to fully utilise resources, remain competitive within the market place, maintain good internal and external relationships, and working to continually improve business practices.

Even in 2019, we still see so many organisations that fail to involve their people in the development of their overall business strategy. The lessons that were highlighted in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis should have been the wake up call for businesses everywhere, yet so many fail to see the benefit that employee involvement could bring. Taking the time to fully involve employees means a much more engaged and committed workforce, leading to increased productivity and less employee woes.

With publicity from the CIPD and the Government, employees becoming more aware of their rights and adaptations to employment law, there appears to be a renewed interest in “being human”. This was widely discussed at the Natural HR conference last Wednesday in Dorset, is there a need to strip back all the HR jargon and start to shift our focus on to what is important? Developing new working practices alongside our people instead of the outdated “them and us” culture?

There are also changes to how we lead people, being authentic, empathetic and generating a positive culture are essential qualities that make a strong leader. By understanding every aspect of the employee lifecycle, this creates a culture of trust within the organisation, which leads to reduced attrition levels, being an employer of choice when recruiting and working with the right people around you.

Getting there is an individual journey to each organisation, the key is clear leadership, defined job roles, strong line management, good levels of communication and most of all actively listening to what the employees need or want.

4 thoughts on “How can HR put the Human back into Human Resources?

  1. Thank you, Natalie, for you continued verve for “our” profession. I’d like to think you’d rank me alongside you, as a positive advocate on all things possible for HR to become a more influential, fair and just aspect of a working proposition that is more fulfilling for people, leading to a better world. We can but dream huh?

    I’ll confess, the “human” stuff – whilst a decent summation of an aspiration to de-mechanise – can have its downsides. Mainly that (and the comment above about economic factors, proves my point somewhat) this is nice but impractical and history tells us that we’ve long had economically-driven systems that exploit hard-working, but circumstantial suffering in people through many forms of labour. Which is why some demonise work and say it’s a bad thing to have to endure. I fundamentally disagree that “work” is a bad proposition, but the more oppressive labour side of things can be. I think we both rally against that, so more power to you in doing so and independently, we’re pushing in any way we can, so I applaud you for that.

    Onto your questions (because I think your post is one deserving of comment, so nicely done in being provocative):

    “One of my concerns with increased automation is the lack of entry-level HR roles that may be available in the future, how can we attract people into our profession when the roles simply don’t exist? Could HR possibly be facing its own skills shortage in the future?”

    This is why a fundamental shift is needed in thinking how we construct pathways into work. We have seen apprentice-like roles as the way people learn from junior postings into more senior ones. Army regiments; blacksmiths; farm-hands, medical students. Often giving lower level, routine, mechanistic tasks to “learn” into the operating system of their role. So if this is gone what do we do? Can we launch unexperienced people straight into highly complex roles? Not necessarily. Yet the apprentice model does still offer something here. Only if we forge it right. Learning Partnerships would be my most simple suggestion. I was the benefactor of this in a role in the early 2000s. I was like the apprentice to the Director not for ALL his work but a part of it. Once competent I made the role my own and he was freed to go pursue higher-level complexities. Essentially, he emptied his head into mine, he shared spaces with me until I was good to hold that space on my own and gifted me with wisdom and intellect beyond anything I could gather in such a short space of time. So forget routine tasks and think “twos-up” models for how new entrants to a profession come on board. I’m very much living this with the amazing Broch Cleminson being my chosen +1 in the business I run with a view to her becoming fully-fledged as a co-designer of our work in the future and able to bring others on in that way herself. Pass it on will be our new entry-level to leadership relationship and pathway.

    Next, ” is there a need to strip back all the HR jargon and start to shift our focus on to what is important? Developing new working practices alongside our people instead of the outdated “them and us” culture?” Yes, of course, we should become more clear and understandable in what we do for the people of organisations and in what way that adds value. That includes they co-design with us. Which is why I’m so excited about discovering how Agile (the methodology) techniques and Design Thinking do that in an HR framework. Most of my consulting work is this – towards more self-management and hierarchical disassembly in favour of more networked, highly participative ways of working that involve include and enable everyone, dispersing power across everyone and not just vested in ego-centric leaders who inculcate their advantage and privilege through situational power (and as we’ve seen, often abuse and misuse this). So I am with you 100% on this.

    I’m going to challenge your closing statement somewhat though:
    “Getting there is an individual journey to each organisation, the key is clear leadership, defined job roles, strong line management, good levels of communication and most of all actively listening to what the employees need or want.”

    Each organisation does have the right and the benefit of their own way of assembling how work gets done, but legislation and forced compliance is necessary for a situation of inertia like we have now. So I think we need to incentivise and create enforcement elements to companies who are abusive of the environment, their communities, their people, their suppliers, their economic responsibility; So I’m with Rutger Bregman here.

    “Clear leadership” is helpful but not enough of them can decouple power, ego, competitive drive and enable shared responsibility and enlightened participation across their people. Where some leaders do so, it’s hard yards but worth it as many other leaders resist this loss of status, power and privilege. So again, we need more science and force of economics that proves this works else they’ll not be motivated to let go; adapt and bring others to leading positions.

    “Defined job roles” are a construct of mechanised ways. Yet there’s clarity of purpose, ownership of key activities leading to essential outcomes for the sustained future of the organisation and each other, and a maturity of perspective that a job is not necessarily how to get the best from people, but intelligent utilisation of energy, skill, time, creativity, empathy and compassion are. So I stand by the rationale that jobs need to be deconstructed into more “mini-purposes” for each person that aligns to the reason the organisation exists. IMHO, Job Descriptions infantilise people into subservient bureaucrats. We need to be as far away from this as possible so I want less definition but more clarity and that means self-discovery in many ways and new mechanisms to assess how best each person contributes and how best their reward recognises that.

    I see less line management needed and more coaching roles, personal accountability, variable and situational management and therefore a lot fewer layers. I’ve been a line manager in many ways and I have had better outcomes when being a facilitator, coach, benevolent director and shaper of human cooperation. Line Management is too crude a science (IMHO) for the 21st century.

    Strong communication – yes much clearer, open and participative ways is essential over the corporate propaganda most of us have endured or still endure.

    So I hope this helps and like I say, keep pressing your determination to shape HR for the better in order to build a better world of work and beyond.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article! I sure wish a lot of corporations took this stance in their HR departments. In my experience they seem to follow a path to side with the administrative staff and never look at the employee side. As most mission statements include the term “Ethic” I feel this is a joke and only mentioned for name’s sake. After all dedicated, loyal employees make or break a company and they should be heard!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article! I sure wish more companies would look at their HR departments and push the “Ethics” issue more as far as employees are concerned. It seems to me that most HR departments dismiss the voices of their loyal employees and concentrate mostly on administration.

    Liked by 1 person

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