Should HR be split?

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Does the HR role need to be split? The answer is yes, according to business advisor and author Ram Charan.

In this Harvard Business Review article, Charan said he talked to CEOs around the world who were “disappointed in their HR people”.

“They would like to be able to use their chief human resource officer (CHROs) the way they use their CFOs – as sounding boards and trusted partners – and rely on their skills in linking people and numbers to diagnose weaknesses and strengths in the organisation, find the right fit between employees and jobs, and advice on the talent implications of the company’s strategy,” he wrote.

He said that most CHRO’s were “process-oriented generalists” who were focused on internal matters like engagement, empowerment and cultural issues, but were not good at relating HR to real-world business needs.

“They don’t know how key decisions are made, and they have great difficulty analysing why people – or whole parts of the organisation – aren’t meeting the business’ performance goals.

“Among the few CHROs who do know, I almost always find a common distinguishing quality: they have worked in line operations – such as sales, services or manufacturing – or in finance.”

Charan suggested that the CHRO role be removed and instead, HR be split into two strands – one administrative, which would deal with compensation and benefits and report to the CFO, and one strand for leadership and organisation which would “focus on improving the people capabilities of the business and would report to the CEO”.

He said those in the leadership strand would be “high potentials from operations or finance whose business expertise and people skills give them a strong change of attaining the top two layers of the organisation”.

Charan wrote that the proposal was just a “bare outline” and he expected opposition to the idea.

“But the problem with HR is real. One way or another, it will have to gain the business acumen needed to help organisations perform at their best.”

What do you think? Should HR be split?
  • George on 8/08/2014 8:41:21 a.m.

    Something needs to be done.
    Many I meet in senior management are not happy with their HR and feel they should be getting more. I quite often see (and hear from others) about organisations with little evidence of professional rigour in HR - or even much in the way of effective accountability. There also some gems of course, and many with the right intent, but perhaps a structural change is needed? Hope the debate takes off.

  • Diane Edwards on 7/08/2014 6:21:40 p.m.

    Feels to me like restructuring to solve a problem rather than tackling the underlying issue, which is the poor quality of HR courses that leave HR people too focused on siloed topics and not enough focus on real world business skills

  • Matt on 7/08/2014 2:52:40 p.m.

    I like the idea. It is similar to what we have now in silo organisations, where business partners and SME roles co-exist.

  • chris on 7/08/2014 2:17:35 p.m.

    absolutely the right long term direction

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