With just one exception, every department in your organization has a razor-sharp focus: Sales sells stuff. Marketing finds and keeps customers. Finance makes money. Operations achieves efficiencies. And human resources . . .
. . . What does HR do, exactly? Scout and hire talent? Not always. Recruiting often falls to the managers who best understand the shifting needs of their teams. How about training and development? Nah. Serious organizations bring in a dedicated team for that. Performance reviews? Ugh. We hope not. Incentives? Unlikely.
So that leaves us with managing benefits--namely health insurance policies and 401(k) plans--and avoiding litigation. This is problematic, because most HR professionals are not medical professionals, personal-finance experts, or attorneys. Plus, what's the HR department's overarching goal? Keeping people happy? No one ever accused an IRA of doing that. Following through on employment promises when nobody else wants to? Ooof, that's depressing.
"Why do we own 401(k)s? . . . Isn't there somebody better in the organization that can handle that?" asks HR consultant William Tincup (@williamtincup) in his talk at a 2011 human-resources conference co-sponsored by industry blog TLNT.com. "Why on God's green Earth are we doing performance management? . . . We're not great at all of it, and I want us to pull it back. I want to focus on the things we're really great at."
Tincup compares HR to the Winchester Mystery House--a structure that was added on, and added on, and added on to for more than 100 years until it became totally dysfunctional and somewhat grotesque. In his presentation, he encourages human resources directors to take inventory and to "return" tasks that HR isn't particularly good at to other departments. "I want you to reimagine, rethink, and reinvent who you are, what you're great at, and what value you truly bring to the organization," Tincup says.
In a blog post for Fistful of Talent, another HR expert suggests reorganizing the department not around its own competencies but around the goals that the company aims to reach. "Would HR get a different picture of their focus if we asked executive teams what job outputs are needed--not 'What should HR do?' but 'What outputs do you require?'" writes Paul Hebert (@incentintel), vice president of solution design at Symbolist. ". . .What would you hire HR to do? What are the outcomes that HR needs to hang [its] hat on?"
Patrick Malcor, CEO of Theodor Wille Intertrade, has an even more radical idea: Get rid of the HR department altogether. TWI, an international supply-chain management company, doesn't have one.
"There is no need for a separate organization to manage human resources," Malcor asserts in a blog post for Management Innovation eXchange. "This is an outdated concept, and it wrongly, unnaturally displaces responsibility for developing people from managers to bureaucrats. Put basic developmental tools in the hands of managers and demand high standards for your company's culture."