HR Departments: Partners or Roadblocks in Effective Strategy?

Timothy Stagich (2001) writes that personnel (HR) departments are “blackholes of human potential, buried under piles of resumes and red tape, while relying on hierarchies and cumbersome procedures to justify their existence in hierarchies (p.114). He also writes that HR departments are typically relegated to the “doers of dirty deeds” as they build walls to protect management from the workers (p.94).

The problem is, I am hard presses to argue against his critiques of HR. It’s a funny profession, with an abundance of opinions about the role of HR professionals (like myself). We (HR Professionals) have lots of opinions about how others should do their work, but aren’t always perfectly organized and strategic ourselves. We investigate and critique with vengeance and fail to understand our own departments.

Unfortunately, HR very easily becomes a roadblock to effective change and strategy, rather than effective strategic partners. Stagich (2001) argues that personnel departments would be most useful facilitating employee training and development (p.111). Other than the obvious question of who then processes the HR-related paperwork (paycheques don’t magically appear; someone has to process them), Stagich is onto something. What if HR was that pillar of service in equipping and developing employees to do their jobs? What if every HR process was filtered through the screen of “does this help or detract from our strategy” question? How much of what we do in HR would still be left? Could we actually contribute to the synergy that Stagich advocates for?

I think it is possible for HR to be that strategic partner, but that requires an honest introspective look at how we operate and contribute. Is HR ready for that?

Stagich, T. (2001). Collaborative leadership and global transformation. Bloomington, IN: 1st Books.