I have a lot of personal experience with career transitions including a shift from software engineering into human resources where I was hired to bring more ‘business expertise and technical credibility’ into the function. I had gotten a Masters in Organization Development from American University; I would now be able to combine my latest academic learning with my corporate experience to help make improvements to both HR and the business.

One of the mandates we were given was this: managers are behaving like parents, employees are behaving like children, HR is behaving like the nanny, and everyone needs to be more empowered. Ok, this was exciting stuff!

In the 6 years I worked in human resources for the telecommunications industry, I would say that this parent-child-nanny dynamic didn’t significantly change. The company I worked for, a $30 billion/year giant in 1999, went out of business. Many change efforts across the company were bogged down by issues I could generally describe as struggles with power and control that suffocated empowerment. HR never became a real leader of change in the business as I had hoped.

The issue of HR behaving as ‘the nanny’ is especially poignant for me today, because I firmly believe that we need to bring passion and humanity back into the workplace, whether in corporate or entrepreneurial endeavors. I recently spoke to a local human resources group about the need for HR to play more of a leadership role in creating passionate engagement.

I shared these slides with a colleague, who has many, many years of experience in consulting and is close to retirement. This is what he said:

“Through long contact with HR in general and profiling many, many HR people over the years, I have concluded the following:

1 80-90% of them (regardles of gender) are reactive (not proactive) followers and not leaders.

2 They are risk and change averse.

3 They are conflict avoiders.

4 They are motivated by security and issue avoidance.

5 They tend to focus on procedures, details and specifics, not concepts and strategies.

6 Even the ones that are leaders are consumed and distracted by the huge compliance and administrative burdens their organizations currently place on them.

7 The truth is that most organizations don’t want HR leading anything….they want them to keep the organization out of legal and compliance trouble and keep the employees functioning.

8 I know consultants (ex-HR people who, like you, couldn’t stand being in HR anymore and left to go out on their own) who have for years been trying to sell seminars aimed at trying to get HR people to take stronger leadership roles in their organizations….with mixed results at best.
So, I just don’t think HR people are the ones who (1) will be responsive to your message or (2) be able to carry it and sell it within their organizations. I hope for your sake that I am wrong.  You will know by the response.”

Wow!  I can’t disagree with anything my colleague said and I didn’t actually give the talk to try and sell anything. I put together my thoughts because I was invited to talk with this HR group and I fervently believe that someone, possibly human resources, needs to lead the way to increased passionate engagement in the workplace or the economy will continue to stagnate: passion is the fuel needed for innovation and creativity that spurs growth. This is not rocket science!

I know a lot of people in the corporate world, and especially in human resources and I have some questions for you:

Do you think HR can ever be more than a nanny?

What do you think of my colleagues’ perspective on HR?

Who do you think should lead the way to passionate  engagement in the workplace?

I would LOVE to know your thoughts. Please your comments below!