Why Do We Seem to Hate All the Things That Make HR Great?

May 9, 2013

There’s a disturbing trend I’m seeing in the HR profession.

Call me dramatic, but I think HR has a self-hate problem.

What do I mean? Well, think about this question — “Why aren’t more HR people getting degrees in finance?

Or, consider these statements —

  • “I’m a business person, not an ‘employee advocate.’ If it makes sense for the business, I’m an advocate for it. Period.”
  • If you ‘like people,’ then HR’s not the job for you. Go work for a union instead.”


Why do HR pros want to be seen business people?

Do you know what I like about HR pros? They’re smart, but they’re not merely dollars and cents smart. They’re people smart.

They understand human motivation. They understand cause and effect. They can anticipate people problems, and they’re motivated to help solve them.

In so doing, they use their unique skills, talents, and gifts for trust building, empathy, and analysis as well as their hard-core knowledge of employment law, management theory, and best business practices to bring something to the business that very few other sectors could even dream about bringing.

And somehow, that’s not good enough for us.

Instead, we want to be seen as “business people.” And while that’s not bad in and of itself, we’ve somehow got it into our heads that a “good business person” is the one who removes, and might even disparage, the human element in commerce.


A “business” decision that was the Ford Pinto scandal

Remember the Ford Pinto scandal? Well, here’s a brief recap.

When the Pinto was released in 1971, Ford knew it had a design defect. If the vehicle’s low rear end was impacted, the gas tank would explode.

Now surely if the gas tank exploded, human life would be lost. So why did Ford release the Pinto knowing it had this defect?

Well, Ford’s “business people” had decided that the likelihood of the Pinto’s rear end being hit dead on was so insignificant that a better “business” proposition would be paying out on any wrongful death lawsuits instead.

But hey, these business people were only doing their jobs, right? They were looking out for the interests of the business. The numbers said “do this not that,” and so they did this and not that.

Yeah, these are the guys I want to emulate.

An approach that’s not getting much respect

Listen up: Brilliant business minds are a joy to behold.

But brilliant business minds aren’t the exclusive bailiwick of those who went to business school, and it’s downright crazy to believe that to be a “good business person” you’re restricted to always caring more about profits than people.

And make no mistake — we are NOT getting respect with this approach. We’re not getting it from the finance guys or the sales guys or the marketers. And we’re damn sure not getting it from the line staff.

So why are we doing it?

It reminds me of the 1980s, when “business” women came to work in boxy, shapeless jackets and neckties, hoping to look like “one of the guys.”

Stop hating what makes HR great

And then years later come to find out — What are the business manuals saying? Wait for it. Wait a bit longer — Oh yeah, “girly” soft skills like emotional intelligence, active listening, and empathy are actually quite good for the workplace. They positively impact the bottom line, even.t

Imagine that. So, stop hating, HR.

If you want your MBA, great! Want to learn to read a financial statement? I’m all for it. Want to learn about your company’s products, marketing strategies, customers, and competition? Now you’re talking!

But, stop hating on what makes the best HR folks truly great. Take that energy and convince your CFO that she’s got something, sure, but so do you — and it’s unique and it’s valuable and it’ll keep the business healthy and prosperous.

Damn. When did an interest in humanity become so unpopular?

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