Blog: Why some people just don’t ‘get’ HR

by Angela Atkins10 Jun 2014
For many years I’ve struggled to understand why many CEOs and senior leaders don’t seem to understand what great HR looks like. They keep hiring HR people who are great at sprouting HR speak and making HR sound like this magical thing that no-one else can understand, yet these HR people don’t deliver anything useful, often because they’re so busy sprouting HR jargon they have no idea what any of it really means!

What’s been going wrong?

After many hours of discussions with other HR fanatics who want to figure these things out too, we came up with this concept – that all roles fall within four types. And HR is a type 3 role.

Type 1 roles
In type 1 roles it’s easy to see whether someone is performing and also anyone can do the job fairly well, fairly quickly with minimal training. So we call this type Performance visible/Lower skilled.
Think about taxi drivers. You get in the taxi and tell the driver where you want to go. It’s very easy to see when they don’t know what they’re doing, programming it desperately onto the GPS while trying to do up their seat belt and turn the radio off and making a wrong turn immediately. So their performance is very visible. It’s also fairly easy to be a taxi driver. You need to know how to drive and meet the requirements of having a taxi license.
Type 1 roles also include waiters, customer service roles, even being a hole digger! These roles are often lower paid because almost anyone can do them.

Type 2 roles
In type 2 roles performance is still easily visible but not anyone can do it. So we call this Performance Visible/Higher skilled. Think about being a builder. You have to have some knowledge of building and tools and if you don’t, when you fit a door that’s not straight, it’s clear your performance is below standard!
Other type 2 roles include artists, graphic designers or photographers (to think of a few). Now this doesn’t stop anyone having a go at doing these tasks – but there is a big gap between trying it and actually being good at it!!

Type 4 roles
No you haven’t missed type 3 – I’m skipping it on purpose to build tension. So read this first and don’t skip ahead. Type 4 roles are roles where you can’t see the performance and not anyone can do it. So it’s Performance Invisible/Higher skilled.
Let’s take an accountant. You ask them to put together a full set of accounts for a company. If you didn’t know about accounting you wouldn’t be able to tell if the accounts complied with legislation or were any good – however because you have to have some knowledge to even know what to put in there, it is highly skilled. Computer programmes are another example. The code might look good to a beginner but actually it’s full of coding errors.

Type 3 roles
So now I come to the interesting part. Type 3 roles are roles that you can’t see the performance level and it’s perceived that absolutely anyone can have a go at. So it’s performance invisible/lower skilled.
HR falls into this category.
An HR person writes a restructuring proposal. To a non HR person it might look like a really thorough document. To someone who’s experienced in HR the proposal is missing critical information, in several places declares people redundant before consultation and has various other errors. But unless you know what you’re doing you can’t see those errors.
And do you need skill to do it? Those of us working in HR know what you do. However because we’re all people – many non HR people get assigned HR responsibilities because how difficult can it be? Anyone can do it, can’t they? It’s just about people. I suspect marketing falls into this category too. So it’s performance invisible/lower skilled.

So what’s the solution?
To me this issue will only be fixed when HR is considered a type 2 role (where performance is visible & it’s higher skilled) or at least a type 4 role (where performance is still invisible but it’s understood you need higher skills to do it, not just being a person).

When CEOs and senior leaders see that you do actually need experience and skills to work in senior HR position and understand what should be delivered, things will change.

We need to stop putting under-qualified HR advisors who are not yet ready for the challenge into senior roles (now in saying this I was a under-qualified HR advisor myself who was appointed into an HRM role but looking back I see now that with a few more years’ experience I would have added much more value far more quickly to the role than I did). We also need to stop putting non HR people into senior HR roles. I think every HR person must work outside of HR for periods of time but to give the top jobs to those without any HR shows how little respect exec teams have for HR knowledge.

And probably the fix for this as with other discussions I’ve had is that HR needs to be regulated or chartered.  Everyone knows it takes time, knowledge and experience to become a chartered accountant. When the same applies to HR then we might move to being a type 2 role. And we can stop having this same discussion again and again about why people don’t get HR.

Angela Atkins is the general manager of Elephant HR. The published author has worked in HR for more than 17 years in a variety of sectors. This blog posting originally appeared on Atkins personal blog hrmanagementbites. To read the full posting click here.

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