This Is a Serious Question: Should We Kill Human Resources?

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Feb 20, 2014

An argument for the “end of HR” has been made from time to time.

Heck, just a few months ago we read a scathing takedown of the classic HR model by Bernard Marr, which he titled Why We No Longer Need HR Departments. He led off by saying:

Nothing matters more to companies than the people who work there. Companies are nothing without the right people! And I am sure that not one, single individual wants to be referred to as a ‘human resource’.”

So, you can see he wasn’t really a fan of Human Resources. Or, he at least didn’t appreciate the persona HR has acquired over the years.

Aside from his rather subjective initial argument, Marr does touch on some prevailing criticisms of HR.

The worst part is … he may be right.

The name

OK, we admit to not loving the reference of “resources” equating to “people.” But let’s be serious; if an HR Department is making everyone happy, we doubt anyone would care if its name was “Department of Cattle and Doom.”

It resembles sports in this way: When a team is losing, you always hear about arguments, tiffs and criticisms between team members, coaches and executives. The complaints are indicative of deeper, less-discussed issues.

When the team is winning though, all those problems seem to vanish. If HR is facilitating happy employees and pleased leadership, we doubt many complaints would be directed to the department’s name.

It can’t please everybody

We think this HR critic has an extremely valid point here. Lines are constantly drawn in the sands of business. Sometimes, those lines will separate employees from management. We all know how difficult it can be to act as the middleman in arguments.

As Bernard Marr put it:

Another issue is that HR departments are trying to serve two masters – which, in most cases, is not very successful. On the one hand, they are there to provide support for the employees and, on the other hand, they are there for the company and the senior management to help manage (and monitor, discipline, appraise, etc.) employees.”

If HR swings towards one side, it can very easily cause more harm than good. Still, is it necessarily a bad thing that HR is viewed as the enemy occasionally?

We’d argue that problems are almost always better kept in-house than outsourced. If you can handle disagreements fairly and legally, there’s no reason to let those arguments reach sidewalks and court systems.

It’s important to remember: just because someone is angry, that doesn’t mean someone is right (and the same goes for you).

HR adds NO value

Here’s the real meat of the argument. Marr describes HR departments bogged down with “bureaucratic and administrative tasks or legal issues.” So, it really sounds to us like Marr’s big problem isn’t with HR at all. He simply doesn’t like poorly functioning Human Resources.

In which case, couldn’t the same argument be made for every department? Marr says that:

I have recently seen a number of companies that shut their HR departments down completely; outsourced the function or reduced it to a minimum. The reason they have done it, and not suffered any significant throw-back, is because HR wasn’t delivering any real value.”

Here’s the main argument against Human Resources. Poorly run, it doesn’t add any value to a business, which ultimately means HR will harm the business.

Right. Remove the “HR” part, and we get this: a department that doesn’t add value to a business is bad for the business. Yes, we think that’s fair.

The solutions

Marr goes on to describe his fixes for HR, which all add up to an effectively run HR department. Like, the ones that exist already, just with a different name.

So maybe we don’t kill Human Resources just yet, we just admit that outdated processes and poor performance have painted a rather ugly picture of it. Sounds like a perfect scenario for some unexpected growth and disruption!

We certainly agree with one point Marr makes in his article:

Nothing matters more to companies than the people who work there. Companies are nothing without the right people!”

Agree or disagree? Do you think it’s time to kill off Human Resources or not?