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Why do HR professionals continue to get it so wrong?


Guest articles > Why do HR professionals continue to get it so wrong?


by: John Fillingham


In a recent canvassing of training needs from HR professionals and HR themed courses for line managers (the goal to prepare a focused set of highly relevant training workshops) some interesting results came to light. Other than the usual requirements for sharpening up knowledge on handling redundancies and disciplinary hearings, new themes emerged and influenced some revisions to my newly created HR competency model.

The HR industry itself promotes heavily the need for technical excellence, an ever rising need to keep track with legislation, creative ways to manage absenteeism and develop popular new bonus schemes. The research feedbacks tells a different story (and I have to say – a general feeling throughout many organisations in 18 years in the field of human development) which sadly has been going on for quite some time: HR is failing to “cut the mustard” at many levels (not just at executive and board level), even removing many admin functions through HR Business Partner roles and Shared Services, they are still failing to add value at strategic level and lack the credibility and influence of their sister functions within the business.

How can you expect to win the board over, when so many managers at base level are not on your side? Many HR professionals themselves are highly critical of their peers, voicing concerns over basic skills sets and a preoccupancy with traditional HR processes and lower level thinking models. How could you really take HR seriously when their scope of influence seems limited to the hygiene of the building toilet facilities? So is being business savvy, understanding fully the needs of strategic business and being powerful influencers at the root of this problem and leading to HR losing the credibility and being “frozen out” in the key business decisions?

Many high performance organisations such as IBM, Pepsi, Marriot UPS, already fund financial education programmes with spectacular results, so why is this not a priority for all HR professionals? However, it doesn’t end there - these programmes are open to a wide variety of departments, so everyone in the organisation can understand the impact of finance and economics, so no matter where you are from, marketing, customer service, manufacturing, you can take this opportunity to grow your “business skills”.

Like any other management function, HR needs the key skills associated with being an effective leadership role model. Influencing, problem solving, project management etc. Without some of these fundamental abilities how could anyone expect to survive in the brutal world of corporate life. An over emphasis on legalities and process have led HR down a dead end street - valued for their technical knowledge, it is simply no longer enough, you could argue, it never was.

So what’s to be done? Is HR a lost cause? Certainly there will be many traditionalists who will continue to resist the evolution of the profession. High level strategic business thinking, understanding of the core processes of the organisation and in-depth customer knowledge are critical for the next generation of HR professionals. How can you create an HR strategy when you have no clue as to what the marketing function are up to and what people challenges they face?

The construction of this competency model is based on a typical UK based average sized organisation however the central focus is core business skills which drive the success of the other technical elements. This lies at the heart of the challenges for HR and can be considered a fundamental weakness in the HR profession as a whole. I strongly believe a balance needs to be struck between fundamental leadership and business skills and the thirst for technical knowledge, so far, and for too long, it has been tipped in the wrong direction. This needs to be urgently addressed.

Spending time bolstering financial understanding, the language and needs of other functions, has to be a must; a colleague of mine currently studying an MBA commented that now she was finally able to understand and talk the language of finance, marketing etc. – a revelation. Modern business requires a strategic head driving practical solutions geared with an outstanding internal (and external) business knowledge.

So the real question is, how does HR stop the rot and move ahead to a prime position in organisation development and corporate thinking…it’s a clever case of smart business skills, professional proficiency and the ability to market and influence from the bottom to the top and stay ahead of the game. Can you answer this simple question - what are your competitors doing both in terms of business performance AND people strategy?

Imagine being described as a talented business manager with hr in your portfolio…, there is a novel thought.


You can find a specialist workshops for HR professionals to tackle these very issues at

For more information and advice you can contact John Fillingham at

Contributor: John Fillingham

Published here on: 20-Dec-09

Classification: Development, HR


MSWord: Why have hr professionals got it so wrong.doc

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