The Ideology of HR


It’s no secret that it’s a critical time for HR. And when things are critical, we surmise how HR can stand up and be counted. I’ve been known to write some rallying cries myself.

I’ve read articles, blogs and hear commentary about how HR will need to be agile, to be flexible and adaptable to be able to respond to any business challenge. I hear that we need to be more strategic, focusing on long-term business performance and less on the reactive, generalist focus of yesteryear.

I’ve read how we need to be more like Finance and become better at understanding the numbers within a business, be more like Marketing/Comms in how we build a brand to deliver a message, and be more like our Trade Union partners where we should use informal work networks to deliver results.

I myself have written about how we need to be more evidence-based, to use more sources of information and practice a higher level of discernment in how we apply solutions. I’ve also read how we need to make better use of data and technology to identify insights that will inform business decision-making.

And I recently read the responses to a #HRHour question where participants were asked what they believed were important traits of a HR function. The responses included respect, good communicators, to be more ethical and fair, to be authentic, to be motivated and passionate as well as being commercially focused and critical friends. The responses continued; we need to be professional, approachable, collaborative, visible, accessible and inspirational.

I don’t disagree with any of this. It’s all perfectly plausible and reasonable to expect this of the HR function.

But it is a tough ask, and a lot of pressure, and to some people, it may feel unattainable to be ALL of those things. In fact, let’s be honest, it’s impossible to be all things to all people.

It might be prudent to accept and be more clear that when we talk about how HR ‘should’ be in this context, we talk idealistically.

There are too many different factors that affect how HR can be practiced in any one organisation. Size of the department, budget, focus, culture, leadership, direction, starting point, economic forces, location, sector to name but a few.

The most we can ask is for HR practitioners to do the best job they can in the circumstance that they operate within. It’s vital to continually strive to be better, and to recognise a higher aspirational level in which to practice, but organisations have different requirements of their HR function depending on the challenges that they face. Organisations will also be at a different level of maturity in how they view their workforce which ultimately informs how they want that to be represented by the HR function.

Sure, we should influence and change attitudes to try and get business to embrace the optimal type of HR service that we can provide (if that even exists) and we should do that to the best of our ability but let’s be honest and pragmatic, practicing an ideological view of HR won’t be possible for some HR folk. Some practitioners won’t have the authority, confidence or culture to foster a change of attitude towards how that practitioner can operate. And it’s too lazy to tell those practitioners to find another job where they can operate in a “best practice” (a term I use loosely) HR type of way – that assumes availability of jobs, ability to travel and so forth.

So my closing comments are these. Its awesome reading about how HR should be represented in business, and how we should behave, act and evolve, and it’s dead right to always strive to be better but we don’t live in an ideal world and context is important. Just do your best, always act ethically and legally, and make the most of opportunities that are presented to you.