The End of HR

Not so long ago, the HR department was all-powerful.

They were the deciders on hiring and firing, the people who had the ear of the CEO, and the final arbiters on what development activities you could and couldn’t do for your staff.

That picture is changing quickly today, as the business line takes back control of its own agenda and social networking makes it easier than ever to find the best programs and suppliers. And the truth is, the purpose of the HR department has always been misunderstood. HR was never really there to be the arbiter of who does what training, but instead was the company’s insurance policy to keep managers out of trouble. The real value of HR was to interpret the rules – how to legally and defensibly performance-manage staff, what not to say in a recruitment interview, what the requirements are for pay and conditions, and so on. The rest came as a result of centralization and the consolidation of power.

The people who know best what the business (or government department) needs have always been the managers in the business line. Tailored solutions, like tailored suits, work much better than off-the-rack; and very different solutions might be best for different parts of the business. Who would know that better than the manager who is responsible for the business unit every day?

When good information was hard to get, centralization was the result. Now that we can all easily find solutions that are right for us in the information age, centralization is ending. Since legal advisors can supply the don’t-get-sued part of the equation for the company – and are much cheaper than full-time HR staff – many large and modern organizations are doing away with HR completely. Other companies are making HR specialists organic to their own business units, getting the benefits of advice on the rules without giving up their power to make training and people decisions.

It’s a work in progress, and there are ups and downs, but the day social networking and open information changed the world was also the day when centralized and insular structures in the workplace began to age visibly. The modern, fast-changing, niche-adapted and highly agile workplace of today is making its own people decisions, rather than ceding control to a shining HR city on the hill.

If you are a manager, and are being held personally responsible for the quality of your decisions and the results achieved by your business unit, you need the power to make all those decisions. In the modern workplace, there’s just no need let centralized bottlenecks take large chunks of your power away.

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