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Paul Carter

HR Writer

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Let’s bury the ‘human remains’ stigma and build HR’s future


“We can’t build a profession from people who say they ended up in HR,” said Peter Cheese, the CEO of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

A year on from his keynote speech at the 2014 CIPD conference, does the stigma of working in ‘human remains’ still exist?

HR’s existential crisis has been going on for too long. We are not the employees’ agony aunt, the nodding donkey of the senior management team or the graveyard for people who failed in other professions.

HR is a strategic and results-driven business partner that can deliver an organisation’s objectives and personalise the mantra ‘it’s not just what you do, but how you do it’. 

A clear identity for HR can stop the introspection and fast-forward the innovation to gain reputational capital in the workplace.

Make alliances, not rivals

The fight back against the negative perception of HR may lead to empire building, but macho posturing will not build an organisational empire with open borders between teams.

Classical and modern military strategies have added a dash of bravado to organisational management in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. However, the ‘who dares wins’ approach to surviving in a competitive market or the shrinking public sector should be balanced with evidence-based decision making to evolve the business.

HR’s new mission

HR professionals, struggling with the transition from traditional to strategic HR, may feel as lost as Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard in the war film Apocalypse Now. The Doors’ song The End playing in the background as they sail up the river of change on a mission to eliminate threats to the corporate vision.

HR professionals have to learn how to compete in the war for talent, build a strong brand and find inclusive leaders. They need to make sense of big data, blend business nous with effective communication and develop their technological capabilities.

The work-life balance conundrum

Maybe Captain Willard was experiencing employee burnout when he said, “When I was here, I wanted to be there. When I was there…all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I’m here a week now.  Waiting for a mission. Getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker. Each time I looked around…the walls moved in a little tighter. It was a real choice mission. And when it was over, I’d never want another.”

Balancing business and employee needs to create a people-based organisation can create that ‘family feel’ culture ‘held together by loyalty and tradition’, which is much in demand according to the CIPD Employee Outlook 2015 survey.

X marks the spot

Ignore engagement and communication at your peril as a confused strategy leads to a confused workforce. Employees need to know where they will land before they jump off the burning platform. If HR becomes more business-focused, using more than the annual survey to gauge employee mood we can hold a winning hand in boardroom poker.

We will know what the employee voice is actually saying, rather than the sanitised version that senior management chooses to hear so they can tick a box and continue unabated in delivering their plans.

Instead of ‘you said’ ‘we did’ displays, wouldn’t it be great if we saw ‘HR said’, ‘you did’. But words without action have no substance.

So let’s bury ‘human remains’ and make ourselves heard. 

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Paul Carter

HR Writer

Read more from Paul Carter