…must not be just a label fraud

The reasons why a reorganisation and, possibly, a strategic realignment of the so-called HR department might be warranted can be as diverse as the various tasks of this function itself. As a result, in many cases the area is perceived as ineffective and/or inefficient. This is something not infrequently associated with serious damage to the department’s image. The following three questions can help you establish whether any action is required.

In less than 60 seconds (30 seconds is even better), would the vast majority of people in your organisation be able to explain the HR structure to a new colleague and work out from this who is responsible for looking after the “new arrival”?

Within the framework of providing solid, holistic support, are the respective contact persons in the HR department able to handle 80% of the tasks assigned to them in a timely manner, without having to make use of the complex interface management of so-called competence and service centres?

Do a large majority of users view employee and manager self-service opportunities as helpful and intuitive to use, without having gained a reputation as essentially just a shift of value creation from the HR department to the “customer”?

Core function versus support function

If you are unable to answer any of the questions above with a clear “yes”, then it might be worthwhile pausing for a moment to clarify in your mind just what the core task of this function within the organisation is really meant to be. It is important to keep in mind that, at least in growth and profitability-oriented companies, this area belongs to the support functions and not to the core functions such as development, production and sales.

This means that the initial priority should be to clarify the role. In this context, “support function” initially makes it sound as if this department is of lesser importance to the company’s success. But that, of course, would be a mistake. The point here is simply to note that companies do not exist with a view to having an HR function, but rather that the HR function exists to effectively support and facilitate the company’s core mission-critical functions. And to this extent, it is of central importance to success.

HR Mission

The next step is to then determine what mission the HR department itself actually has, or should have. Achieving this requires a defined terminology. Terms that are not clearly defined are meaningless and simply lead to misunderstandings and confusion. I understand mission as a statement about why an organisation as a whole, or here specifically a certain area of an organisation, believes it has a right to exist. So, the specific question here is, “why, and to what end, does the HR department exist?”


And when an area, as is so often the case, calls itself “HR”, then the first question you might ask is, “why?” In my life, I’ve never really come across anyone who’d be keen to be viewed as a “human resource”, let alone be “managed” as one. So, the task shouldn’t really be “human resource management”, should it?

In my opinion, the basic mission of all so-called HR departments is the same, irrespective of the mission of the respective overall organisation. And it’s this: to get the appropriate people to the appropriate place at the appropriate time.

This “mission statement” is important both literally and metaphorically. The word ”appropriate” is crucial here. In this context, “right” and “wrong” are just as inappropriate terms as “good” and “bad”. It’s about having a good fit to the organisational culture, the team and the boss.

Recruiting, developing and keeping people satisfied in the organisation is a key leadership task, and in doing so, the HR function should support and assist both the leaders and those they lead within their organisation. The key task, therefore, concerns the care and development of “people & culture”.

From human resources to people & culture

The maxim “true to its name” has great strength here. Whereas, a simple renaming of HR as, for example, “People & Culture” would definitely not be enough to bring about the necessary changes, it could certainly act as an effective beacon for a new beginning. Faced with a department called “People & Culture”, the members of an organisation might well expect something rather different than they would from a functional area that believes itself to be responsible for “Human Resource Management”. In conjunction with this, however, a change in attitude among the people representing this functional area would also need to be evident.

To this end, the department would need to develop a vision to enable orientation in daily operations. The key questions here are: Where does the department want to go in the long term? What does it want to stand for? What  is the target image Of course, it is impossible to answer these questions independently of the vision of the organisation as a whole – they require customised expression.

The final step is to develop a strategy. The key questions here are as follows: how and by when (defined along specific milestones) should the target image  described in the vision be achieved? Here, too, alignment with the strategy of the organisation as a whole is absolutely essential.

Sounds simple … and is it actually … but the devil, as always, is in the detail. So, if you’re looking for someone to navigate your way past the “devil”, I look forward to hearing from you.