Toward a new HR philosophy

7. May 2015
Article|McKinsey Quarterly

HR should empower managers to decide on standards, hire how they choose, and develop company-wide leaders.

April 2015 | byPeter L. Allen

What is the appropriate role for the human-resources function? Many companies view it as merely administrative, with little or no strategic impact. Of course, HR leaders bridle at this perception and regularly seek ways to have a seat at the table. In the quest to be viewed as more strategic and more important, HR often tries to take on greater responsibility. (For more, see “Getting beyond bureaucracy in human resources.”) Yet the gap between HR’s aspirations and actual role persists.

I’ve observed this gap in a variety of organizations, both as a consultant and as an in-house manager at several multinationals. Fundamentally, I believe, the gap arises from two complementary causes. First, executives and managers often think their job is to get financial results rather than to manage people. Second, when executives and managers neglect people management, the HR function worries about lapses and tends to “lean in” to right them itself. On the surface, this approach seems to meet an organization’s needs: management moves away from areas it views as unrewarding (and perhaps uncomfortable), while HR moves in, takes on responsibilities, solves problems, and gains some glory in the process.

But this approach is based on erroneous thinking. It is bad for management and bad for the company as a whole. When HR sees itself as manager, mediator, and nurturer, it further separates managers from their employees and reinforces a results-versus-people dichotomy.1 That’s why many HR teams refer to the rest of the company as “the business”; too often, they don’t really perceive themselves as a core part of that business. Read the rest of this entry »