HR Use Your Brain

My day is hardly ever complete without reading and sharing a thought-provoking HR article on my Twitter feed. I have various reasons for sharing – mainly because I’ve enjoyed them and think my peers will too. Sometimes it’s because they have interesting new ideas that I might want to try or consider further. I don’t really use my feed as a platform to criticise or decry particular articles because this doesn’t really fit with my generally positive outlook. However, yesterday was different.

I read first an article advocating that individual emotional states should be unaffected by external stimuli, and then a second article (although essay would be a more appropriate term) slating HR. I was so annoyed by the latter that I couldn’t even bear to read it all in one sitting. So I fired off a tweet and returned to it later in preparation for this blog.

I read to learn and gain insight. I’ve nearly finished The Fear Free Organisation which I’m reviewing for The HR Director. For that reason I won’t give too much away here, but suffice to say it’s the rare kind of book that is so fascinating I feel it has changed me in some way – that I will now look and think about things differently. Perhaps that’s why I felt so strongly when I came across the first article mentioned above. And here starts my rant. First, to me, the article is very disjointed, jumping from concept to concept. It also mentions the headache-inducing term of vertical development, which is described as, “Horizontal learning is about what you know, whereas vertical development is about how you know”. Say what now? I do see the importance of emotional resilience, but believing “Your emotional state is down to you and you alone” is an excuse for arrogance and bad behaviour. If this was a universal truth we could all go around treating people as we wished to meet our own selfish ends without having to worry about the impact on anyone else. Clearly this is not the case, although I’m thinking the author of the second article more than likely subscribes to that mantra.

The second article obviously isn’t the first to be so damning against the HR service, and it certainly won’t be the last. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion – and this happens to be mine. Personally I disagree that, “HR as a function is very fadish [sic] by nature”. How long have we been stuck in a rut using the same recruitment processes, the same performance appraisals? It’s quite a rare breed of HR professional who is able to shake things up and try something new. But when we do, we are accused of “a butterfly approach to newness for its own sake and often a lack of relevance and connection to the [business]”. Oh, that old chestnut. I have myself criticised the labelling of everything to do with the brain as “neuroscience” without any scientific basis – perhaps they are getting their knowledge from Wikipedia as the article suggests. But tarring everyone with the same brush – and assuming because nobody is using the techniques that nobody should (how could that possibly be known anyway) – leaves one completely closed to anything useful that may come from that field. Your competitors may be working to usurp you right at this very moment using those very tools. An objective assessment is what’s required – a perfect job for HR.

What really sticks in my throat is the suggestion that “HR…often appear to be people with a solution looking for a problem”, and conversely that “line managers…funnily enough spend a lot of their time trying to deal with actual business problems”. I wonder, are these hero line managers the same ones mentioned later on in the article who shouldn’t have to undertake the standardised processes “forced” on them by HR? Funnily enough it’s those same line managers that drop the difficult people issues into HR’s lap because they can’t deal with them, either through fear or laziness. It’s pretty amazing HR survived the massive economic downturn at all given that we’re apparently a bunch of untrained no-hopers with issues such as “lack of confidence” and “notoriously data and information light” due to “the types of people who self-select themselves into HR in the first place”. Or maybe that’s because when organisations need to downsize, make people redundant and drive the best performance from the people who are left, it’s HR they turn to.

So it’s on that note that I end my career as a HR practitioner. I have packed my brand new bright pink rucksack with my ceramic travel coffee cup and pencil case (leaving gifts from my colleagues – they know me too well) and I’m heading for academia. I hope to never lose touch with the reality of HR, as after all, my research will be providing new insight for HR professionals and my teaching will be training the HR professionals of tomorrow. The second article closes by stating, “It’s hard to see anything that’s radically going to change” and then a tongue in cheek, “maybe I am underestimating neuroscience”. Well, that may be questionable, but you are certainly underestimating us. Come on HR, challenge accepted.

Rant over.

3 thoughts on “HR Use Your Brain

  1. Great blog! Thank you.
    Good to see a critical and passionate voice going into academia to impact HR practice and specifically the approach of HR practitioners which you obviously care about greatly.
    You’ve inspired me to go and finish my anger-fuelled-ranty blog because our critical voices are important.

    I’d be interested to read the articles if you have links? Will go and look onTwitter feed.

    1. Thank you Jo! Good luck with that blog of yours, you’ll have to tweet me when you publish it! If you click on “an article” and “second article” within the text of blog it will take you to the original posts I’m ranting about.

  2. Ange

    Very thought provoking Helen and the best of luck in your new role in the academic world. We will miss you and your lovely quirkiness 🙂 PS Glad u love the prezzies!

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