3 Things HR Should Stop Doing Today

February 18, 2014

HR as a strategic partner with a seat at the table

Strategic HR is a mindset and a philosophy. But it also requires action. I spoke with several HR leaders to get their advice on how to move HR departments in a strategic direction. Here are 3 powerful recommendations.

1. Ditch the “Seat at the Table” Conversation

One of the most notorious complaints is that HR doesn’t get a seat at the table. This is exactly the wrong lament, says Lisa Delisle Flynn, Vice-President of HR at Welch’s:

“It drives me totally insane when I hear HR people talk about not having a seat at the table. If they don’t have a seat, it’s because they don’t deserve a seat at the table. No organization’s leader puts up her hand and says “Stop! We don’t want your help and expertise.” If you know and understand the business and you are providing value, you’re there. If not, it’s your own fault.”

In other words, we need to take responsibility and initiative. It’s not about those baddies in the C-suite shutting out HR. Instead, HR professionals who aren’t “at the table” don’t have the relationships or business knowledge they need to be successful. How to fill these gaps? Flynn has good advice:

“Take a cross-functional assignment in the business. Get out [of HR], do a few years in the business, and then go back. You’ll be much more valuable. If you’re not at the place in your career where you can do that, spend time with your CFO to understand the financials. Spend time with the business leaders. Get out there.”

Stop Babysitting

HR too often plays the role of caretaker in the organization. Andy Porter, Vice-President of HR at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals and blogger at Fistful of Talent, has something to say about that:

“HR groups fall into the trap of being the people who solve all problems. People come to me and say “This is going on with this person. Now it’s your problem.” My answer is: “What do you want me to do? You’re a grown man.” I’ll help people think through how to have the conversation. I’ll even sit with them while they do it. But my job isn’t to be the principal.

Instead, HR needs to treat employees like the adults they are. That means letting go of familiar, paternalistic HR time wasters. At Merrimack, they’ve thrown out dress codes and vacation policies. Instead, their handbook consists of one line: We do what we believe to be best for our business and our employee community.”

Shift from Risk Mitigation to Organization Development

HR professionals have been well trained in risk mitigation. HR departments sponsor lengthy, rigorous performance review processes designed to protect the organization in case an employee sues after being fired. Managers are compelled to follow affirmative action guidelines for fear of lawsuits, not because they genuinely value diversity. All three of the HR leaders I spoke with agreed: don’t sacrifice organization development in favor of risk mitigation.

Leon Ginsburg, CEO of Sphere Consulting and Founder of Better Feedback, says, “It’s important to have the company culture defined and pay attention to how it develops. Once onboard, it’s important to make sure you have the culture and values that people believe in.” That’s the real work of HR: developing an environment in which people can be successful.

Practically, developing that environment means different things for different organizations. Welch’s has shifted the focus of its performance reviews from past performance to future goals. Merrimack Pharmaceuticals has eliminated performance reviews together. The important thing is to find the specific techniques and systems that help your specific organization best the best it can be.

What do you think HR departments should stop doing in order to bring strategy HR to their organization? 

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About The Author

Maya Townsend went from hiding in the corner at networking events to leading a company (Partnering Resources) that helps individuals, teams, and organizations thrive in our networked world. Using the science underlying human relationships and networks, she uncovers sound, practical methods for making soft skills generate hard results. Co-editor of The Handbook for Strategic HR, she'll happily tell you why you should throw out your performance reviews and why most HR departments need a total makeover.


  1. avatar

    […] read what they had to say, check out 3 Things HR Should Stop Doing Today, which just went live on the American Management Association […]

  2. avatar

    HR doesn’t get a seat at the table because they are the Siberia of most companies. HR is something they have to have, not something they want. The advice about going out into the field at least is a good one. In my company, and in too many others, HR people who have ZERO qualifications for the job they are hiring for are calling the shots on future employees. We ended up hiring one lady last year after she met a VP at a charity function and complained about how her interviewer knew less about her prospective job than she did, and yet was going to make the decision of if she was qualified/capable of doing the job. The VP did a work around, and now she’s one of our best District Managers.

  3. avatar

    HR has become such a force at the company I’m with that no one in management does anything until they are consulted. Managers are not involved in the hiring process except for the interview, we have 60 some programs for the same thing due to different work groups, locations or departments. We even have a program for just 3 people in the company and we have over 80,000 employees.
    I know I’m not providing details, but the extent to which HR has made their presence in my company is ridiculus. Literally, as management you can not do anything personnel related with out contacting HR.
    What ever happened to being fair, respectful, and decent to the people that work for you so YOU can MANAGE your respective area to it’s full capabilities. People in HR don’t know how to run a business but yet, in the environment we are in they are the first and last stop it seems for everything personnel related.
    I guess I’m old school, as I was taught how to deal with all the aspects of management including the personnel issues. 30 years ago HR departments were lucky to have 3 people in them, now there are 3 just for my department. Its sad to think we have advanced to the point where we need a special department to ensure that everyone remains happy and content and has a path for advancement when the truth is so many are not happy or content (due to nothing involving work) or are not capable of advancement. Not everyone is cut out to be the president of the company, and it sure doesn’t help anyone having a department promoting the theory that everyone has the same chances of advancement when the truth is they don’t. Yes, there are exceptional folks who get there because they are smarter or better than the next person, but for the most part you get there because of who know.

  4. avatar

    Whatever happened to the open door policy. It’s important for HR to ensure that employees exhausted the options of talking to their immediate supervisor then senior manager then HR is the last stop. I think employee engagement is another major component of minimizing this misconception of an HR Manager’s role.

  5. avatar

    I very much agree that today HR has taken more of a “babysitting” role at times and can lose sight of the true point of human resources: coaching employees to help improve their performance. HR needs to take a step back from small personal problems and start focusing on coaching their employees to reach their full potential.

  6. avatar

    […] 3 Things HR Should Stop Doing Today American Management Association: “HR too often plays the role of caretaker in the organization. Andy Porter, Vice-President of HR at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals and blogger at Fistful of Talent, has something to say about that: ‘HR groups fall into the trap of being the people who solve all problems. People come to me and say ‘This is going on with this person. Now it’s your problem.’ My answer is: ‘What do you want me to do? You’re a grown man.’ I’ll help people think through how to have the conversation. I’ll even sit with them while they do it. But my job isn’t to be the principal.” […]

  7. avatar

    Thank you for leading the discussion concerning proactive HR! To lead organizational development, HR must transition from avoiding negatives to seeking and capitalizing on positives: it is not about risk mitigation so much as it is about seizing opportunities!

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