Raise or Fold

In a recent dialogue it was suggested that one way for managers to take more responsibility for inclusion in organisations was to abolish the HR function.  I confess as a HR professional my internal response to such a notion was to leap to the defense of HR.  Confession time, I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institue of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the UK’s HR professional body.  I also know a lot of HR professionals who have worked their socks off during the pandemic managing all the people issues arising from lockdown: homeworking, furlough, wage cuts, redundancies, employee engagement, people management…

But, in true keeping with our dialogic practices here at 4iforum, I suspended judgement. I listened as the gorup explored “the problem with HR” or rather the problem of line managers not taking care of people issues as a result of deferring to (relying on?) HR department on all things people related.  A member shared the story of three companies who had indeed abolished their HR department.  Two successfully.  One where it had been a disaster.

Fundamentally, the question that lay behind the proposal to abolish HR was “How does having an HR function contribute to a lack of management responsibility for good people practices, especially in relation to cultural norms within the organisation?

An HR perspective

It was acknowledged in the forum that HR needed a “seat at the table.” This is not emergent thinking. As an HR professional I was teaching university students five years ago about the devolution of HR responsbilities to line managers. I don’t know how many years the CIPD has exhorted it’s members to “be strategic” and influence at board level. 



Raise or fold

As the dialogue progressed, something interesting happened. It can be summed up in one thought expressed so succinctly.

We are at a pivot point and HR has a choice – raise the stakes or fold.

  1. Raise the stakes – Business leaders could give HR a seat at the table having being suitably impressed by their contribution in 2020 and at a loss at how to navigate the way forward when it comes to people matters going forward.

  2. Raise the stakes – HR could confidently demand a seat at the table, having demonstrated it’s importance in navigating an emergent and agile people strategy in response to the crisis.

  3. Raise the stakes – HR could create it’s own table, because heck, all bets are off right now and the old rules no longer apply.
  4. Fold – if HR can’t rise to the occasion as a result of what is happening on people matters in 2020 you might as well shut up shop and retreat with your tail between your legs.

So when it comes the role of the HR function in businesses going forward I do think there is a clear choice and one of those choices leads to the HR function being abolished.


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