Too often I hear even HR people saying, “HR is too important to be left to HR.” I’m sick about it. To me it sounds like “HR is too weak to take care of HR by itself.” Have you ever met a sales executive or a CIO who said: “Sales is too important to be left to Sales” or “IT is too important to be left to IT”? I doubt it. While leaders in most corporate functions naturally try to absorb and demonstrate power, HR diffuses responsibility toward its internal customers because of some major misunderstandings.
First, HR is not in the job of leading people. It’s the managers’ responsibility to lead their employees, manage performance, and provide guidance. Yes, managers often interview job candidates or identify the most talented employees as part of a talent management program. Yet HR is expected to play a leading role regarding how managers deal with their subordinates and how they perform HR-related activities. I see HR as a function that provides frameworks and supports internal clients just as corporate IT and accounting do. As such, HR must demonstrate clear directions: This is how we compensate our employees. This is how we conduct interviews. This is how we identify high potentials. HR does not directly lead employees, but provides required frameworks and support.
Second, line managers can’t execute HR-related actions, like running interviews or performance appraisals, by nature. Yes, they are closer to the business and should know better what they need to do so they can meet their business goals. Moreover, almost everybody in a company has certain opinions about how to do HR. That’s different in IT, accounting, or finance. Here we accept the fact that much expertise is required, and only some people in a company have it. HR is a function that must demonstrate specific expertise as well — competences only a few in a company could evenly show. It is a profession that deals with challenges many underestimate. I would guess 90% of all managers believe in their ability to undertake professional interviews. Probably not more than 10% actually run good interviews.
Third, making sure HR standards meet business needs does not mean HR should take a back seat. I can’t imagine a successful HR function or any other function that makes isolated decisions. A strong HR function will always take into consideration opinions addressed by major stakeholders throughout the business. This is true for most other corporate functions as well. If you want to conduct an employee survey, ask business stakeholders about its relevance and how to do it. You want to build an employer brand? Talk to managers, new hires, applicants, and many others. But it must be HR that decides how things are done, based on the professional knowledge and insights only HR people will have.
To all HR people: be proud about the responsibility you have — or should have. Most companies need a strong HR. Take over responsibility and leadership. The business expects it of you. The more direction and expertise you show in what you do, the more acceptance and acknowledgment you will gain. And no one will suggest that what you do is too important to be left to HR.