I will attend the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition for the first time in 2019. And I am excited to be there. It’s like going to a pilgrimage to find the answers that have been unanswered for so long. But there are also mixed feelings. And here’s why.
After 26 years in HR, I am saddened by the little progress our profession has made in general to influence the hearts and minds of people we often consider as our customers, partners, beneficiaries. In the past decades the HR profession has been the object of bashing. Every now and then, an article appears to prove the ineffectiveness of HR. Entire books are written to answer the question whether or not we need HR. And recently people started to think that HR will be obliterated by the digitalization that is changing so many sectors. HR seems to be reduced to a set of algorithms.
The reasons why HR is under such scrutiny and criticism are manifold:
- We have not taken ourselves seriously enough and have not consistently worked to give the human factor enough attention. We have tolerated the supremacy of the numerical and monetary approach of steering human behavior.
- We have not capitalised enough on the vast experience and evidence about practices that we have.
- We have not organized the profession so that we could weigh on political decisions, with exceptions like the CIPD and SHRM. Because of this, HR does not have a strong voice in many countries.
- We have allowed people to tell us what HR should be. Be more like marketing. Be more like business. Be more like IT. But HR is a profession on its own, with its own body of knowledge that is in itself multidisciplinary.
- HR has been tempted to go along with fashions and fads. We could have been more critical when implementing certain systems like competency modeling, performance management or variable pay. The truth is that many of the best practices seem to have an adverse impact on the motivation and well-being of people.
- Too many HR professionals fall for methods that are unproven and often based on shady theories. The commercial success of MBTI, Insights, the Enneagram should annoy us. The weak professional standards of people that claim to be burnout coaches is worrying. And the lack of knowledge about which practices work and which don’t, merits urgent measures.
But still, I am optimistic about HR of the future. Because in these times of change, the solutions to all our challenges will be human. So, it’s a great time to be in HR, because we can make sure that people are willing and able to perform sustainably in order to create value for all stakeholders. HR of the future should return to this essence and not be tempted to follow the fads. Yes, digitalization and people analytics will change the way we work, but not the essence of the work. Let’s remain critical for people who proclaim that the future only lies in chatbots, machine learning and artificial intelligence. These people seem to underestimate human nature. We know already that these tools will not solve all the problems of the past and will create new challenges, of which the ethical dimension is the most important one.
The societal dimension of HR is not to be underestimated. Even though we focus on performance, our impact outreaches this. Inclusion, diversity, employability are societal results of an HR strategy that is people-centric.
But we must develop more strength as a profession. We need to speak with one voice and dare to set the agenda about people management within companies and in the labour market.
We are experts on human behavior, coaches to leaders, architects of organizations, and people strategists for businesses. And yes, often we are sucked into the swamp of administrative and legal obligations to find there’s no time for many of these strategic roles.
The thousands of people working in HR in Europe know very well what is needed and how we can develop and implement solutions that reconcile performance and well-being, that contribute to the employability of people and to the profitability and effectiveness of the organizations, institutions and business they support. And we should use this know-how much more.
Having strong national and international bodies that represent the profession of HR, is certainly the way forward. These bodies can give the many HR people the backing they often need. Let’s not forget that there are many HR professionals who work in small companies and that many business leaders still consider people just as resources. We still need to do a lot of work to educate people. And if we can give HR a strong voice, we can influence the mindset of decision-makers, governments and the broader public.
We need a voice and this voice will be more effective when we organize and develop our profession. During the SHRM 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition I will be looking for ideas that give HR the impact it needs and deserves and bring it back to Europe.