The 7 deadly sucks of HR

I wrote a recent blog on positive things people have said to me that stuck throughout my career. Someone suggested I should do one on things that suck. Due to the way blogging works I imagine this one will be more popular

HR – sometimes – in the words of Bart Simpson ‘both sucks AND blows’

1. When we hide behind process. I recently heard about someone finding out their redundancy period was being ended early via the brilliant communication method of their HR partner emailing them the redundancy policy with the appropriate section having been highlighted. Technically correct? Possibly. Gutless and petty? Yep. That’s not just poor HR, that is poor human interaction

2. When we fail to think like real people. For example ‘Why on earth can’t line managers get things back to us on time?’ The standard answer to this seems to be because they just don’t care. Not enough people take the leap to actually ask i) should they care? ii) why do we care? iii) is it worth getting upset about? iv) what else have they got on their plate? v) how easy have we made this? vi) is that a problem for the business or for our deadline? Are they the same thing? Why not?

3. When we claim success that isn’t ours. We all laugh when we see the candidates on The Apprentice having their CVs dissected in the final rounds as their achievements are held up to scrutiny. The truth is if we added up all the ROI that we claim as a profession (trainers… I’m looking at you) everybody would be working for a company bigger than Google and there wouldn’t be a recession. I once had a £1.3 million saving attributed to my employee retention work over a year. I don’t for one second think I actually saved that, but it looked good in the report. Guilty as charged. I know a significant company which has an HR department claiming great success for its internal social network. 20000 plus staff – only 70 on the platform, 50 of those from HR…

4. When we talk about theory – without recourse to real life. I don’t really give a flying duck about which coaching model you use as long as it works. I don’t care about the difference between coaching and mentoring – as long as people are getting what they need. I sure as hell don’t care about how many boxes you are putting in your model unless you can do something useful with the contents. The infuriating conversations that don’t drive anything (except academic TopTrumps) are simply posturing. I’m occasionally guilty of this (and most things in this piece).  Just find something that works for your business – do it. Which coaching method/change model to use is not a deep moral or ethical question, it is preference and context. We have tools – if more than one does a job well then that is a good thing. Move on.

5. When we don’t eat our own dogfood. Get tools, use those tools, make a difference, refine tools – it isn’t more complex than that. Policy keeps things static, actions keep things moving.  This is basic stuff. Don’t sit in your own office, isolated, trying to work out how to improve cross functional working – it even sounds silly when you describe it that way.

If you design a process then you must follow the process or kill the process. If you want people to be tough on absence then be tough on absence in HR. If you want people to address performance issues proactively then deal with your own performance problems first. If you want to create a coaching culture then be a bloody good coach. We don’t prescribe stuff for the business, we either believe in it enough to do it ourselves or we should be thinking twice about putting it out there in the first place. Eat your own dogfood – if you won’t, don’t expect others to.

6. When we overly generalise or polarise to make our point. Of course I don’t believe in no policy or structure. I’m not an idiot. So please refrain from thinking of me as a crazy impractical anarchist for suggesting we turn down the rulemaking dial… just a little bit.

The ‘how good should HR people be with data’ debate is an example of this. Do I think HR people should be able to use Excel? Yes. Do I think they should spend all day looking at spreadsheets? No. Do I think there should be an advanced test using VB to write macros as part of the recruitment process? No. Most choices aren’t binary and shouldn’t be presented as such – if we are dealing with complex things then let’s make them as simple as we can, by all means, but in HR we have a horrible habit of mainly simplifying the argument of just the other side. It doesn’t help either side. If you were in the HR numeracy debate you probably think I’ve crudely polarised your position – tricky isn’t it?

7. When we use overly complex language or (even worse) complain when other people use simple language. I’m expecting complaints about use of the word sucks and a host of people interpreting this blog as me stating everything about HR is wrong. It isn’t – but not everything about HR is right and therein lies the opportunity. I’d rather err on the side of ‘what more can we do?’ than ‘I think we’re fine’.

I think ‘we’re fine’ rarely drives progress. Some bits of HR and some people in HR still suck AND blow in their behaviours. It’s straightforward and I’d rather call it in that language than a ‘long term competency challenge’. Ongoing suckiness is an issue that nobody benefits from ignoring. Complacency stems from a defensive position. That’s a bad place for anyone in any profession to be.


9 thoughts on “The 7 deadly sucks of HR

  1. As the instigator of the “should HR be good at data” debate, I’m not offended at all – sometimes to provoke a debate you need to take a polarised position. I’m fully aware that the discussion is much more nuanced than that but if I written my blog in that way it’s unlikely it would have provoked any reaction. (I also enjoyed the irony of discussing the statistical knowledge of the HR profession by basing it on unreliable anecdotal evidence).


    1. You know that I agreed with you, so it didn’t cross my mind I’d offend you. I thought your blog hit the spot. The ongoing debate became, at times, slightly less helpful – and for me when I think of the data in HR debate I’m reflecting on multiple conversations over the years. Can you post a link to your blog in the comments here (please) ? I would, but I’m on the move.


  2. Belatedly reading this blog topic – sniggering and snorting and chuckling with evil witchy cackles. Your list is deadly accurate. Sadly we could double your “sucky list” again, not an attempt to completely slate the profession, but wishfully as a means to jolt some folks out of their complacency or dare we say narcissism?


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I stopped at 7 for convenience, as you say it is sad that it wouldn’t be overly taxing to keep going. We adapt or die, clinging to the past will, unfortunately just lead to some people being consigned to it


      1. Hope you don’t mind but I’ve reblogged that post on our own site. Still chuckling about eating your own dogfood….

        Leanne Morris
        Carter Morris Talent Solutions Ltd
        dd: +41 (0)418 351 361


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  3. “When we fail to think like real people.”
    This is probably not only true within HR, but can be applied to nearly everything. Everyone’s priorities are different and we tend to forget that a lot.


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