HR … DOES PERISH COME NEXT AFTER PARTNER AND PLAYER ?

I have long believed, written and spoken about the fact that HR organisations need to go through a major transition to be allowed to survive as a business unit, rather than just ending up handling administrative functions in a shared service centre in some low cost country. (see “HR … Polite to Police to Partner to Player” posted August 26, 2010).

Author: indo consultores; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: indo consultores; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have based this belief on the fact that if HR organisations cannot transition from a “run the company” position to a more strategic “change the company” role, they will continue to come under pressure to do more and more with fewer resources, as companies drive hard to cut costs to be able to survive the new economic realities which we all face today. I have therefore felt that becoming an “HR Business Partner” is not enough, as a partner is someone who may be asked to help implement the strategy built by others, but an “HR Player” is someone who is actually an integral part of the creation of the strategy. This ensures that the strategy is built around people, and takes into account critical issues such as ensuring that the strategy is actually supported by, and synchronised with, the corporate culture, and that the skills and competencies needed for strategy execution can be developed and/or acquired.

I have also long believed that a critical element of any corporate success is the commitment to building “management as a profession” rather than just a vocational add-on, which unfortunately tends to be most prevalent in European companies today. A critical part of professional management is an understanding of how to recruit, lead, motivate, develop, challenge, evaluate, reward and inspire your people, in other words those areas of concern that are generally associated with HR.

I had therefore concluded that the stronger and more capable is the management of the company, the less does the company need to be dependent on an HR organisation to identify and take responsibility for human issues.

Hence my belief that for HR the future is to either transition to a more important strategic role, or just stagnate as merely administrators of payroll and personnel records, roles that could easily be outsourced or even taken over by a capable F&A organisation.

However, I recently had the opportunity to hear an exciting young man called Heiko Fischer speak at a conference in Zurich, who made me wonder whether I needed to add another word to my alliteration to make it “Polite to Police to Partner to Player to Perish”, and whether the true ultimate goal of HR is to make itself totally unnecessary, by making management more capable.

Heiko is the founder of Resourceful Humans Consulting and he believes that the word “perish” should apply to our traditional understanding of management as well as to HR. He believes strongly that companies that adopt the principles of resourceful humans can do away with both HR and middle management.

They believe (from their web site) ….

“ … to sustainably produce meaningful contributions for your customers in the 21st century marketplace, a few great leaders are simply not good enough. To succeed in such highly demanding environments you need a critical mass of great people who can all lead and innovate when needed. To that end the RH-Way combines a proven entrepreneurial management mindset with a shared leadership architecture from the Gaming Industry. The Way of Resourceful Humans helps you enable your people’s potential, by relentlessly structuring the enterprise around their desire to produce results.”

Heiko postulates that while we all want to live in a democratic country, we do not translate the core elements of democracy to the way we work, and particularly as companies grow. He believes that the key elements to building companies that can succeed through continuous innovation is firstly to understand that making a profit is necessary for a company to survive, but that contribution to the entire ecosystem of staff, customers, partners and community should be the primary goal, and if successful then profit is one of the valuable by-products.

My simplified interpretation, of his three critical elements (in the space available) are:

Democracy. Note that he does not advocate anarchy nor the abolition of management, but that its function is to create the minimum structure needed for an environment where people can be successful through having a greater say in what they do and how they do it. He sees our current management structures as being like a hamburger where management is the oversize bun, and where the people are what tends to be a very small patty squeezed in between. Heiko feels that modern structures need to be more like a burrito where the wrap is very thin and the major part is the filling.

Author: Pete Souza; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Pete Souza; via Wikimedia Commons


Information. We need to ensure that people are kept informed of what is going on in the company at all times so that they can manage their own behaviour and actions based on what is needed. His belief is that if you give people the chance to work as entrepreneurs within a company environment, they will do so, and they will work towards their own success and therefore that of the business.

Gain sharing. His feel is that the way that we reward people today is all based on management handing out largesse, whereas a more realistic way to reward people, particularly in a networked environment, is to base it on company success, but on value and contribution to the team as viewed by their peers.

Heiko uses the example of the Starship Enterprise of Star Trek. James Kirk is the captain and sets their direction under their broad strategy of going “where no man has gone before”, but doesn’t spend a lot of time telling people what to do, as his team understand their roles and how and when to perform them. On top of that, no-one on the Enterprise has been ever known to pick up a communicator to talk to HR.

Author: McFadden, Strauss, Eddy & Irwin for Desilu Productions; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: McFadden, Strauss, Eddy & Irwin for Desilu Productions; via Wikimedia Commons


I am not yet a total convert to the concepts of “resourceful humans” as seen by Heiko Fischer, though I may not be a long way away. I do believe in simple, flat management structures and am an opponent of complexities such as matrix management (see “Stupid management ideas” posted August 29, 2011). I also believe that skilled management includes being very people focussed, and that many tasks generally seen as belonging to HR really belong with line managers. However, I will need to have some more discussions with Heiko Fischer to decide if I am really ready to add “perish” to my transition list.

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17 Responses to HR … DOES PERISH COME NEXT AFTER PARTNER AND PLAYER ?

  1. Frank says:

    Hello Les, totally agree with you on your views on HR and it having to move to “strategic” and “change” focus. In Australia our governments certainly make HR critical with labour and discrimination laws etc., but HR once had “change management” responsibilities and lost it, or had it narrowed to organisational change only. HR like IT is a service unit, that must add value, and not exist based only on administrative responsibilities and because of government regulation. In fact, strategic HR departments have often outsourced the admin/payroll functions as part of their value add strategy. Regards, Frank

    • leshayman says:

      Frank, I am glad you included IT, and I would also add F&A to the list as well. All admin functions have to do more that just manage records, but must be able to add measurable value to the business. Les

  2. Holger says:

    Amazing that you have met the brain behind RH … I follow him on facebook and twitter since nearly 2 years and he is right in some aspects … but it is also amazing to realize that you still talk about HR and the business … which would not be the case, if HR would be already an intergrated part of the business … 🙂
    And seriously I do not think that HR will transform into what it should be. Most HR people in the industry are change resistant! That’s at least what I have experienced over the last couple of years.

    • leshayman says:

      Holger, I met Heiko in Zurich when we both were asked to speak to a group of HRDs. I did a “CEO’s view of HR need for change” based on the fact that I spent most of my life in line management and (as you had to experience first hand) only a few years in HR. He spoke after me and I was really taken with him both as an individual and with his beliefs that if we give people the chance to do great things, they will do great things … something that I too believe, though my focus is more on great management rather than his management minimalism. We are looking at his involvement in a company I work with, so hopefully I will have a chance to talk more with him. Les

  3. Profundareflexion says:

    Hello Les,
    In the 11 years that I have been working, I haven’t seen any HR interaction with the employee except at the times of the employee’s joining or leaving a company – that too is a mere formality. So I am really not sure what is the real purpose of having an HR team in any company. The task of maintaining data in the system can be done by anyone – what’s the big deal there? Conflict management – that can be resolved directly between the reporter, reportee and probably someone above the two as the mediator. Harassment issues – a company whose management cannot handle it, is not a company worth working for. Help me understand what is that special thing that HR team is doing which would make it indispensable in any organization?

    • leshayman says:

      Profundareflexion, I believe that the better is management the less is HR needed … BUT I also see that in Europe management tends to be less a profession and more an add on, or afterthought, to vocation. This means that management is much more product and numbers focussed than it is people focussed. I therefore believe that the role of HR is to make itself redundant by building balanced professional management. Les

      • Profundareflexion says:

        Thanks Les. Do you see this gap in the management team only in European companies or it’s a global thing? Also, could you please explain what do you mean by HR building balanced professional management? I don’t think that the HR team would be having a free hand in getting employee friendly policies implemented in a company – in the end it’s the management who has to take a decision – isn’t it?

      • leshayman says:

        Profundareflexion, it is always management responsibility. However, I believe that HR can help management to have a balanced view of “people and numbers”, as I believe that people are ultimately the only real long term sustainable advantage, and just focussing on the numbers is only a short term strategy. Les

      • leshayman says:

        Profundareflexion, I do see it more in Europe than say US, UK or Australia for example(countries where I have first hand experience), as in Europe we still seem to believe that the best educated, highly intelligent and vocationally brilliant make the best managers, rather than looking for those that see management as a calling, and those that have the ability to build successful teams. Les

      • cnxtim says:

        I think the first rule of good management is that a manager truly needs to really like people in general and takes immense and sincere satisfaction in their success.. One of my personal favourites? Colonel Peter Cosgrove…

      • leshayman says:

        Tim, you got it in one. The success of any manager is just the sum of the successes of his/her people. Les

  4. Tim says:

    hi,
    On my 2nd stint with the big “X” and back as a contractor, I accumulated a team of 5 “real” employees reporting to me constituting a reasonable chunk of the HO marketing team. In 5 years helping them develop their internal and external skills and beating all our targets, I was only once asked if HR would address an issue for one of my most successful reports, imagine his surprise when I had to admit I had no idea where they were located in our HO building….But I am sure they were very nice people performing jobs of real, measurable results….

    • leshayman says:

      Tim, it’s a great commendation for you that you had no idea where HR was located. I believe that management skill can be measured by inverse proportion to the need for HR. Les

      • cnxtim says:

        Well, as a contractor, i had no need particular of them myself, and my small team (all employees) seemed happy with the way things were going,as were management with the results – up until the P76 incident, But no sympathy deserved for self-inflicted wounds 🙂

  5. cnxtim says:

    BTW, nothing to do with this blog or subject (apart from the French Connection), but I have just found a brilliant charcutier in Chiang Mai township, interesting chap indeed, a Yeniche Gypsy and the irony? My gorgeous French companion Maya is a bloody vegan, still all the more pour moi!

  6. salut les, thanks for picking up on our conversation in your blog. loved our talk. the question, i think, is not if hr needs to be redundant, but rather how we can make any enterprise more adaptive. to that end, having any relevant competencies (eg. hr, leadership, marketing, finance) directly in the teams just makes sense. note i am not talking about administration, but actual value-adding competencies. if you recruit, you care more for the people you work with. if you care more for the people you work with, you recruit better. if you are spending your own money, you’ll spend it as though it were your own. when you get to design the product, you care for the product as it reflects you and your commitment. same goes for your enterprise design.
    i think hr should act as a lighthouse function towards this adaptive enterprise design.
    if we can change ourselves as hr, we can show the way towards a more sustainable capitalistic model – democratic entrepreneurship.

    as our provocative tagline goes: do you really think captain kirk will still have HR on the enterprise? 🙂

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