Not understanding the role of HR

Afternoon everyone,

I still find it incredibly frustrating that still a large majority of People (mostly Managers) find HR people are their to be 'pink and fluffy' or provide administrative support. This is not just in my local area however across the organisations. 

Do you still find these issues in your organisation? How do you combat it? What's your biggest tips?

P.s i hope each and every one of you has an incredible Christmas and a happy New Year!

Best regards,


  • I have just joined a Car Dealership and yes am feeling a little off by their "administrators" not being up to the job and quickly sending to HR. I had disciplinary notes sent to me yesterday, they were appalling and in it they said "HR will decide what level". I emailed back to say that we are here to advise not make the decision for them. Then a creepy email this morning saying "yes we want FWW". I think they have made their decision!
  • I avoid doing pink and fluffy
  • It's easy to forget, embedded as we are in the midst of it, but the majority of employees really only have two meaningful encounters with HR: when they join and when they leave. This leads to the impression of HR being an administrative rubber-stamp function. Of the remainder, a great number only have contact with HR when they have a grievance and, as good professionals, we sit down with them to understand the problem and try to talk our way to an informal resolution. Consequently, we are seen in our "fluffy" capacity as counsellors and mediators and non-experts will rarely appreciate the linguistic gymnastics and legal tight-ropes we must walk in such conversations.

    When managers need our assistance, it's often to do something decisive ("I just want them out of the business!") and our role is frequently to talk them back from the ledge to either a legally-safe exit process, which may take weeks or months longer than they would like (and the fact that it's because they haven't kept records or followed procedures is our fault, obviously) or to remind them that gapping and role and re-hiring into it is a costly and time-consuming process that might be out of proportion to their irritation with the current post-holder. And when we *are* helping them with a process, we keep reminding them that our job is to advise and counsel, not to make decisions for them, which can make us seem non-committal and prevaricating (compared to their decisive action!).

    It is really only when the manure hits the windmill that people get to see HR flex its muscles at close quarters and, even then, the visible heavy lifting often gets done by the lawyers, and the fact that we have diligently implemented and communicated policies and procedures and ensured that proper records are kept is overlooked as us "just doing our job".

    But it's not all bad news.

    If you look at the world's most successful organizations you will often find that the intelligent use of talent is at the very heart of their success, and it is HR professionals who sit within the machinery of talent: the gentle art of extracting maximum milk and minimum moo, as I've previously described it. For decades, charismatic business leaders (insert name of headline-grabbing billionaire here) have been taking credit for this, but there has been a noticeable shift in the last ten years that seems to be gathering pace, and senior HR leaders (and their teams!) are beginning to be recognised as strategic assets. Even better, these senior figures are increasingly lifelong HR professionals who've worked their way up the ladder, rather than the sideways-shifted Operations or Finance Directors (usually male) who used to dominate the area.

    When it comes to combating the residual impression of HR as tedious, box-ticking bureaucrats and/or fluffy cuddle-bunnies the single best tool is CIPD membership and qualifications. These immediately confer both professional credibility and access to a network of like-minded professionals to help keep you on the path of righteousness. The next best is a professional, reliable attitude. We have first-hand experience of the kinds of behaviours that annoy managers (lateness, casual attitude to work, frequent short sickness, poor personal hygiene, coming to work hungover or worse etc) so have the best insight to ensure that we are perceived as high-quality, reliable professionals. Start at the top, too. If a senior manager, director, VP or Board member wants something (legal and ethical) - they get it, as quickly, efficiently and perfectly as we can conceivable manage. And make sure their subordinates get the same, so they don't feel threatened.

    Our other great ally in changing attitudes is data. Evidence-based HR is very much the flavour of the decade. So if you can prove how much money you've saved the company, how much you've reduced absence, how much you've increased engagement and employee satisfaction, how much you've reduced employee turnover... All of this speaks to the bottom line impact of HR and demonstrates the value of both tedious, box-ticking bureaucracy and the occasional need to be a fluffy cuddle-bunny (*actual physical contact not included). In fact, when I was leading inductions in a previous role, that actually became part of my script: "yes, I'm a tedious box-ticking bureaucrat, but this is why my tedious, box-ticking bureaucracy might save your life and/or your job".
  • Maybe its my personality but I tend to find the opposite - I am seen as anything but 'pink and fluffy'!
    I appear to be The Hatchet Lady, the one all the managers would like to stand behind while I fire their bullets for them. That way they still get to be liked and can dress all bad news items up as "HR says I have to tell you this"!
  • Craig

    I'm lucky to lead HR from a position on the top table - that helps a great deal. If you are not as lucky then try these:

    - talk strategy and tactical planning with the senior team, not just respond to crises.
    - get involved in non-HR business activities (operations, IT, marketing and especially finance)
    - work at longer term business solutions - be proactive
    - in strategic developments, make HR a forethought, not an afterthought - be at the centre, not the edge
    - as Peter says, don't do pink and fluffy
    - get line managers to do the admin!
  • There are no tablets of stone issued from CIPD Towers in Wimbledon saying that HR is this or isn’t that. And even if they were issued they could only ever be advisory or “best practice”.

    Each organisation needs to develop a culture and a HR strategy and department that suits its needs now and into the medium term future. Those models will be different.

    Whilst many (most?) organisations have travelled down the path of HR being an advisory /architectural service leaving the “doing” largely to the line, that is very much a choice not a necessary given or the only option.

    Fundamentally what does the organisation really want from its investment in a welfare/personnel/Human resources / Human Capital team? What value is it look for you to add and are you happy that this fits what you want to do and where your skills are? If not change the views of the organisation or change your job. You can change the views but not often by a full frontal assault but by building a range of evidence and examples where you have added real value in a different way.

    Soft and fluffy is never a competency I have possessed ( although empathetic and understanding is an important skill) so is that what they really want from you? And how have you challenged it?
  • but sometimes manager announced wrong decisions as HR fault too just to safe themselves