HR is dead! Long live HR!


I love being in HR.  I love people, their joy, their weirdness, their excitement, their grumpiness, their unpredictability.  I love learning as well as teaching.  I love being in a room the moment someone “gets it,” especially when that someone is me.  I enjoy the effort and reward of creating, coaching, and listening.  I enjoy being surprised, breaking big problems into smaller achievable ones, providing information and guidance.  I like being involved in bringing clarity, reasonable processes, and policies that work. I like rolling up my sleeves in the grey area that is human behaviour.

I have read a lot lately about Human Resources being the heart-centred “moral core” of a company, and I agree with that analogy.  You need to care in order to be effective in HR.  Kindness, respect, sustainable practices – these are key to any truly effective Human Resources program, whether you call it Employee Experience, People + Culture, or something else (see my A Rose blog from 2014).

BUT caring is only half of what you need.  You can’t simply be a great listener with a big heart.

A successful HR partner also needs to be agile, bright, business-minded, fiscally responsible, and aware of the legal and process-driven aspects of the profession. You need to be able to articulate business needs to employees, and link employee needs back to the business.  You need to understand employment laws, human rights, immigration, privacy issues.  You need to move easily between strategy and action.  You need to bring a balance of communication, engagement, best practices, legal requirements, culture, business, and heart.

There is a trend towards sensational headlines about abandoning or “disrupting” HR.  “HR is Dead!” In general, I applaud the desire to break the mould and find a better way.  Improvements come when you ask “why are we doing this?” and “is there an easier, faster, better, more enjoyable way?”  But rather than pulling apart an entire profession, I’d rather encourage it to grow and evolve, and encompass the whole range of services, talents, and skills it represents.  You can’t carve “People + Culture” out of HR and expect its practitioners to be ok with that – we should get to do it all, if we have the talent and the desire.  You can certainly choose to specialize if you want, and many do.  You can identify yourself with a modern title like “People Guru” or “Talent + Culture Wizard” or whatever works for you.  But please stop the confusing madness of “Everything must go.”

A case in point:  the current war against performance reviews.  They’re a waste of time! They take too long!  No one wants them!  The latest headline:  “The Dreaded Annual Performance Review Inches Closer To Extinction.”  I believe that the baby at risk of being expelled with the bathwater is that, at least in well-trained hands, performance conversations (and even ratings in most cases – call me crazy) are necessary and useful.  While they often feel reviews take too long, Employees value feedback.  They want to know how they’re being measured and how they’re doing.  They crave clarity and consistency.  They also want to know how to move ahead, and they want to understand what that path looks like.

Many companies, including some of our clients, have a desire to upgrade and update their performance programs, which is exciting.  Many different approaches can work, provided that employees and managers are trained and educated on the end goal, that they have a common language to talk about what “good” means, and that goals are consistent, useful, and actionable.  What bothers me is that the poor Performance Review itself is being vilified, when it is the person charged with using the form and designing the process who has the power to make the performance conversation useful or useless, positive or negative, powerful or a waste of time.

The performance review is like a hammer: in the right hands, it can build a house, put up beautiful artwork, or fix a chair.  In the wrong hands, it can lead to a broken window or a trip to the Emergency Room.

Have an opinion to share about HR’s current PR challenges?  Your love/hate relationship with performance reviews?  Your need for training in performance review and great feedback conversations?  Please get in touch with me!

Heidi Eaves