As Ron was settling in to begin his day on a Monday morning, he got a text message from his manager.
'Hi Ron, Can we have a quick meeting at 9:30 in Madrid 4 conference room? It's urgent!' the message read.
Ron was a 45-year-old, account manager based in Amsterdam. He worked in TRT Industries for the last 20 years, which was practically most of his working life. He was above average in his performance for most of the years, but last year, he was rated 'Average', by his manager, Chris.
Chris, 35, was a young executive who joined the company 6 months ago from McKinsey, one of the top consultancies in the world. He was obviously a very 'smart' guy and had a good rapport with the company's leaders. He had a keen insight into the industry and was extremely strategic in his thinking.
Although Ron and Chris never got into an argument, they never looked eye to eye with each other. Chris was too 'strategic' and 'high level' for Ron, and for Chris, Ron was too 'tunneled vision' and 'basic'. According to Chris, in his latest performance review, he lacked a strategic understanding of the company's vision and big-picture thinking.
In the meeting, along with Ron, there was Sandra, the HR Business Partner (HRBP) of the sales team.
"Thanks for joining on such short notice, Ron. Maybe you know Sandra, she is our HR business partner." Chris started.
"No problems, yes, I have heard your name Sandra, of course, we get monthly email on employee engagement survey from you, right?"
"Yes, That's me. I am working as HRBP for your team for the last 2 years now. It has been difficult last 2 years and we are going through a major business transformation" Sandra said.
"I have heard all about it and about the project 'FutureFit'.
"Yes, this is regarding 'FutureFit'. As I mentioned, our business is going through a major transformation and we have been trying to assess the behaviors we need to have, to be successful in the future. We worked with top consultants such as BCG and Accenture on this"
"Ok... ?" Ron was puzzled.
"Ron, we think that you do not fit in these requirements of the future and so we have decided to end your contract with the company. We, of course, will discuss an exit package as per the law."
"Wait a minute, why do you think I do not have the values for the future?"
"As I said, we have been following the framework of BCG and Accenture and Chris's inputs were taken in these as well."
"But, I have never received this kind of feedback before. My customers don't complain, in fact, they love me."
"This is not about the customers. It is about the changes that our company is going through"
"What, that doesn't make any sense!! In the company values, you have put customer centricity as our number one behavior"
"Yes, you are right but there are other behaviors, where we think you are lacking such as 'taking lead', 'Being Proactive' and 'team work'.
"What? how do you know that I am not good in these. I manage so many customers, do you think I do it without any help from my colleagues. And if I wouldn't have been proactive how can you think I survived so many years in sales ?"
During the entire time, Chris was awfully quiet.
"Chris, why don't you say something? you know that I have been doing well for several years."
"Ron, this is not my decision, I am new and did not know how you did in the past. We have to take a tough decision for our future."
"What do you mean you did not know, you have access to all my performance documents for the last several years."
"Yes, but it's not about the past, its about our company's future. In any case, the decision has been taken."
Ron felt that there is nothing he can do about it. So, he continued discussing his exit package.
The potential of HUMAN RESOURCES profession
As we enter the era of artificial intelligence and machine learning, there is a growing need for managing the human capital and their potential.
"HR in its purity is a profession which is trained to understand a human mind. It is a science to understand human behaviors and is suppose to get more out of each unit of human effort". Says Vineet Nayar, Ex-CEO of HCL, author and renowned public speaker on the issues of management.
"However, the HR function has become intellectually lazy, and the HR function as we know it, will be dead by 2020" he continues.
Most experts believe that HR function, when acting as per its true potential, they can drive the future of the company.
However, in many companies, this is wishful thinking.
Why do employees dislike HR so much?
The brutal truth is that in most of the organizations, HR is seen as a political unit who is mainly engaged in 'cover your ass' projects.
An HR professional can tell you all about the need for a strong culture, talent diversity and employee engagement, but they themselves rank very poorly in most of those aspects.
Let's take talent diversity for example. According to basic HR standards, a company needs to have equality in terms of gender and race. Fair enough but the equality doesn't stop at these topics. Today's complex business world need solutions from diverse minds who bring with them original thinking. HR or recruitment generally go for the same typecast people while hunting for talent. A degree from an IVY league or consultant from the big 4 or talent from top silicon valley company. They would rather play safe and fail than take a risk and succeed.
Another example is employee engagement. One of the main functions of an HR executive is to create or promote employee engagement. They conveniently pass this to the team managers and team leaders but seldom lead by example. A lot of the grudge against HR is that they are nowhere to be seen in the day to day activities of the employees. Once in a while, you will receive an email or a questionnaire from the HR asking you to take an employee satisfaction survey or reminding you of your yearly performance reviews. However, you cannot expect to have a deep conversation with them regarding your career, aspirations, weaknesses and your insecurities. They don't have time for that. Hence, people believe that there is a 'Human' element missing in 'Human Resources'.
A short history of HR Profession
HR profession gained prominence in the latter half of the 20th century when HR was used for 'industrial and labor relations' with the unions.
In the late 20th century, as companies started viewing employees as an asset, the term 'Human Resource Management' became dominant. During this time HR lobbied a lot to be a part of the leadership team as a representative of a common employee. This is where HR became a management representative rather than an employee representative. They spent more and more time at the top of the organizations trying to lobby for their powers and less and less time with the people they were supposed to represent. Although, over the years they kept on re-inventing their titles from 'Human Resource Management' to 'Personnel management' to 'talent management' to 'people management' or what not but their practices did not evolve from the late 20th century. Hierarchical, illogical rules and processes and the complete inability to genuinely help humans at work while fighting desperately for a 'seat at the table' where big decision are made. In a lot of cases, this seat is yet to arrive and in some slowly slipping away from their bottoms.
So, what is the future for HR?
Humans will still be at the workplace for several years, hence, 'Human Resource Management' is a key. But not as we know it.
Many CEOs and management gurus have openly criticized the current HR profession for their lack of purpose, empathy, and engagement. On the other hand, the same people have made us realize that good HRM is important for the future of the company and humans working in it.
However, if they need to survive, they need to make drastic changes in them and they need to start now. This is not difficult but only about setting the priorities right.
1. Do the right thing before trying to do things right.
2. Have a 'bottom up' learning, not 'top down'. Understand business, customers and most importantly the employees first. If you do that, you would know what to talk about when you get that 'seat at the table'.
3. Take a break from your unnecessary busy schedule and think deeply about why you are in this profession in the first place. It will help you get back to the core of your job....being human.