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Workplace Culture

People Don’t Take HR Seriously; Here’s Why That’s Dangerous

Legacy beliefs like being the bad guy and a lack of strategic vision isolates HR, and that’s bad for business.

Talent is what separates good companies from great companies, so why does the team in charge of managing and developing talent — human resources — get less respect that other core business functions?

I’d offer that the modern-day perception of HR is rooted in myths and stereotypes that simply do not apply to progressive companies that understand the critical role of people development when it comes to the future growth and success of their businesses. For this reason we’ve seen companies like Bonobos (recently acquired by WalMart) appoint chief people officers, and startups like Slice strip the HR verbage completely with roles like head of people.

The move from “human resources” to “people” is subtle yet significant, as it indicates a shifting understanding of the core mission of employee support within an organization. In many ways, the objectives have been simplified — keep the best people happy, motivated and engaged — as the talent landscape and technologies available to manage people proliferate and become increasingly challenging to navigate.

Here are a few outdated perceptions of HR and why they are dangerous to the future success of your business.

“HR doesn’t contribute to the bottom line.”

Without a direct P&L, HR gets no love. Sure, it’s difficult to make a direct link between revenue or business impact and the activities of a talent team, but the connection is there. Engaged employees are not only more pleasant to be around; they are also 22 percent more productive than their disengaged counterparts. In other words, happy employees get things done.

A recent Gallup poll revealed that 70 percent of U.S. employees are not engaged at work. Put a different way, companies that are not proactively taking steps to improve employee engagement are sitting back while productivity falters. They are leaving money on the table. Failing to see the business benefit of promoting an engaged company culture hurts the bottom line, whereas leveraging HR as the primary resource for building up a strong culture will have a tangible ROI when measured by output and the ability to attract and retain your very best people.

“HR makes things harder than they need to be.”

HR tends to have a tough go at it within an organization. From minor inconveniences like changes to seating arrangements to layoffs, HR is often made to be the bearer of bad news. We all know it’s not fair to “kill the messenger,” but since the beginning of modern workplaces, HR has been taking the fall for decisions that are oftentimes made outside of their own jurisdiction. Of course, this is often a strategic and necessary decision that’s made to protect senior leadership, but is it really fair to believe that HR exists to make our lives harder? I’d argue that it’s not.

In fact, at companies with healthy corporate cultures, the opposite is true. HR exists to make our lives easier and better. They exist to improve how we feel about our roles, our colleagues and our teams. They are here to listen to our feedback, and then find solutions for turning that feedback into action where it makes sense. Employee intelligence tools are making it easier than ever for talent teams to surface transparent (anonymous even!) feedback on an ongoing basis, which can be used to drive real change at an organization. At these companies, acting on regular feedback is flipping the traditional stereotype of “HR as the bad guys” on its head.

“HR primarily focuses on admin tasks and do not have a strategic function.”

It’s true that some of the more traditional functions of HR, such as managing payroll and benefits, are being replaced — at least partially — by technologies. So, are HR practitioners at risk fall victim to future job automation? In this narrow, admin-focused view of the role, I am afraid to say they most definitely are. Artificial intelligence will soon streamline most people management functions of HR, but the good news for talent professionals is that more time will be freed up to focus on people development.

And when we really think about it, isn’t developing and growing your best talent, and building a healthy and transparent corporate culture, the single most important responsibility of HR practitioners? One area where companies can improve is educating junior to mid-level managers in leadership.

According to the Harvard Business Review, most organizations wait a decade to offer any type of leadership training to their managers, creating a gap that can breed disengagement and attrition. After all, the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs: bad managers.

In a widely circulated HBR piece from a few years back, author and leadership consultant Ram Charan called for a splitting in two of HR as a function. He advocates a model in which the administrative function of HR forms its own unit, reporting to the CFO. The remaining function, reporting to the CEO, would primarily focus on leadership and development.

As the administrative function of HR is increasingly becoming streamlined by technologies designed to make people management more efficient, organizational leadership should consider re-engineering their teams to staff the right people against people development.

This requires appointing visionary talent leadership who possess the capabilities to train and educate employees within a transparent, inclusive corporate culture.

David Mendlewicz is the CEO and co-founder of New York-based Butterfly, a chat-bot that offers real-time leadership training and supports managers based on their team’s feedback and surveys. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.