David Ulrich (1997) in his model and teachings advocated for a more strategic HR. He charged HR practitioners to be more transformational and less transactional in order to develop a savvy business acumen so they could earn a place at the table where decisions are made; to make themselves more aligned to the objectives of the business thereby focusing less on the administrative functions and to put business at the core of HR. Over the course of almost two decades, HR practitioners have worked diligently to achieve this mandate to make themselves relevant to the economics of business so much so that today, across all climes, we have more HR Directors and VPs than there have ever been in the history of business.
One can randomly pick any organisation, from the best, most structured to the least structured; one thing the employees within these organisations will have in common in the current dispensation is their apathy for HR and their disconnection from the function. The perception of HR by the workforce has fallen to almost below zero percent, even in organisations where so called best in class practices are being advanced and adopted; and the reason for this is because HR is no longer having conversations about people. HR is now talking and fully engrossed in conversations about business and strategic positioning that people are no longer at the core of its conversations. In most boardroom wrangling where HR now has a seat, people who are the real essence of the function have been forgotten and relegated. Today you hear phrases like “HR is not your friend or HR is a business enabler not your mummy” just to buttress HR’s perception of itself.
In her article of September 2016, Nicole A. Gadsdon of “The HR Rabbit Hole” deliberated on this same concern but in her case, she pondered if HR had lost its way? For her, a world with a purposeful HR could be likened to a world where people wake up inspired to go to work, a world in which trust and loyalty are the rule rather than the exception and a world where we feel safe at work. Her description of a HR Eldorado is in no way related to the strategic intent of HR that is loudly and persistently advocated; rather it ticks the “Employee Advocate” box of David Ulrich’s model. This leads to asking if it is impossible for HR to be both a Strategic Partner and an “Employee Advocate”? This question is pertinent because there is a feeling that HR and business drivers believe the two should be mutually exclusive; and because this is the position and the belief, HR is gradually, strategically working itself out of business.
Today, we have HR practitioners being advanced to lead businesses as COOs and even CEOs. In all of these, and throughout the journey to relevance, a trend has emerged that necessitates HR practitioners to give response to these key questions:
- Has HR and the function become so strategic that it has lost its essence?
- Has HR become so transformational that it has become less emotionally intelligent?
- Has HR lost its heart and its professional way?