The treachery of HR business partnership

In an attempt to remain relevant in an economic environment which puts less weight on the value of the human resource, HR migrated to a mode of so called “business partnership”, and the idea itself and its implementation has turned into a fatal mistake.

The meaning of this business partnership has been to subjugate “representation” of the human resource in decision making in exchange for a “higher and more elevated” role of ensuring that the management of the human resource is “aligned” with the needs of the business.

The HR “business partnership” absolved HR from “protecting”  and lobbying for the human resource, because the HR business partnership co-opted the HR function and defanged it. This so called partnership has robbed HR of the necessary credibility to do its role.

This HR business partnership reminds me of  a Chief Financial Officer who misleads the Board and Investors because he is the CEO’s business partner. Clearly, there are some CFO’s  who have gone down this road, having made a mockery of their profession. However this deception is not the espoused religion of the CFO. In the case of HR, business partnership has led to abandoning the people for the numbers. In parallel, many very skilled HR people were replaced by a generation of mindless technocrats whose expertise was sycophancy

As the  so-called HR business partnership became more real, the deception became more evident, as is witnessed by the growth of wow-wow-ism which focuses on making sure that things are fun. HR  communication became sloganeering, reminiscent of the old communist newspaper which praised the socialist reality and ignored the breadlines.

HR became a profession deeply mistrusted and hated by the workforce.

What has happened in this country in the past few years is no surprise. Massive unionization has come to haunt the HR business partners. These powerful unions have sprung up overnight in finance, mobile communications, high tech, insurance and even in large taxi companies.

The new unions have pounced on the emptiness and perceived treachery  of the “HR business partnership”, and have provided an alternative, seen by workforce as far more reliable.

This change has pushed HR into a far worse position than they have ever been, ie-HR becomes the isolated so-called business partner of the CEO and the Union becomes the voice of the employees.

CEO’s need people next to them who talk numbers, talk sales, talk marketing and talk people. Not HR business partnership. And if HR does not get it, the unions do.

I always tell my clients that it is better to deal with an empowered HR manager who represents the people lobby, than a union steward. Few have listened; many are learning the hard way.

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9 thoughts on “The treachery of HR business partnership

  1. Strong words. Very.
    I have always held that HR has to be the ones to know ‘people’ best. Like finance is said to know money, and technical knows engineering.
    Fact remains, HR slipped into the comfort of towing the line, all in the name of ‘needing to know business’ ( heard that one, right?).
    The option was and is for HR to broaden its vistas, and be the voice and vision of people (in the larger context)… Not mere representatives of employees .. But of people inside and outside organisations… and using this to make/keep businesses sustainable (business is for society and not the other way around).

    This makes HR a calling .., and gives weight to the much-mouthed words .. ‘We are a people company’, ‘people are our most important asset’ etc.

    Specialist HR has the opportunity to become this …and not get ensnared in the comfort of generic operational aspects which any common-sense generalist can easily do.

  2. I’m afraid you are right. However the reality for HR is by far more complicated than what is described here. In order to influence, HR must have deep business knowledge. But, people’s people naturally sway away from hard core numbers, money, marketing decision etc. These will influence the people management of an organization. Unless HR is close to where decisions and data is being analyzed, and made, there is no way to influence and to carry out employee’s needs. While HR tried to build a bridge between the business and it’s people , I find that lack of interest and understanding of business acumen has prevented HR business partners from succeeding. At the same time, business managers only pay lip service to HR and to people. In reality, peoples’ needs and interest are being pushed aside at at the first financial or other business challange. The reason in my mind is that money is always the king. This is the bottom line. People come only later, much later.

  3. Pazit
    In today’s reality, the issue is “deal with me or deal with a union”.
    CEO’s get that.
    Then the work of HR lobbying starts, based on priorities of the doable.

  4. Your post brings up three potential relationships between line management and HR:
    1: Me, the expert: Where HR operates from its self-given ascendant as a “people” expert, leaving the rest of the organization with its ascendant “technical expertise”
    2: Me, the loyal lieutenant: Where HR operates from a conscious or unconscious collusion with the business agenda, its relevance being measured by its loyalty to profitability. (It seems to be this form of relationship you are referring to).
    3: Me, the loyal opposition: Where HR operates from authentically confronting the thinking of management out of its loyalty to the answers to two questions: “What else?” and “Who else?”

  5. Very interesting. Not sure how I missed this post in 2014. No matter. The HR field definitely took a wrong turn somewhere along the way. I first ran into it in late 80’s and early 90’s when I saw first-hand how bloodthirsty HR leaders had become. I think they were trying to prove themselves: “See, we can cut headcount too.”

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