The two sides of HR

“Nifty Fifty Poster” by Duane Dalton is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Having recently happened to attend several networking events, I’ve experienced what I call the two sides of HR.

On one side, we have the professionals who seem to especially care about the human part of their job: they typically enjoy interacting with people, helping them grow, working with and for them.
After all, they know that the strength of every organization is in its people.
So, they usually see themselves —and are also perceived— as talent developers.

On the other side, we have the professionals who tend to focus more on the factual part of their job: no matter the occasion and the interlocutor, they wouldn’t miss the opportunity to explain how things are done at their company.
In general, they seem clearly more committed to the company’s tasks and rules.
As a result, even though they might see themselves as company ambassadors and might even hold the fancy title of Chief People Officers, they are often perceived as administrative staff alike.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean that these latter are necessarily evil, nor that the clerical part of their job is not needed at all.
What I mean —admittedly under the influence of the first point of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development— is that it would be nice if all HR professionals would value people over tasks, processes and rules.

By the way, I find it intriguing when someone asks if HR should be part of an Agile transformation or if it is really possible to make HR professionals embrace Agile values and principles, since, at least with regards to the “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” statement, I’ve always thought they would get a head start…
Well, taking into account that the Manifesto for HR Development doesn’t mention people at all —which is quite disturbing, isn’t it?—, I acknowledge that my usually Panglossian view of HR might be occasionally misplaced.

Back to the networking events I was mentioning at the beginning of this piece of writing, I somehow consider them an opportunity to run experiments.

So, the input of one of those exercises consisted in prompting three different people to talk about a topic I expected the companies they respectively work for not to be familiar with.
By the way, all these companies are somehow involved in an Agile transformation or at least apparently interested in Agile-related topics, which means in theory they shouldn’t be allergic to innovation and continuous improvement.
The output, that is the reaction of those people, was not really encouraging, though.
I know, three samples don’t make a relevant statistical population.
Anyway, I find it interesting —and also worrying— that two out of three of those HR professionals didn’t have a very open-minded reaction.
Saying that they didn’t seem curious about the subject or that they looked reluctant to know something more about it would be an understatement. To be honest, they actually met with absolute resistance the idea of talking about something their respective companies have never tried or a point they might be missing.

Nevertheless, the third person was exactly the opposite.
At the end of a long-lasting, and somehow alienating, networking event, in spite of being more than likely exhausted, she was still able to show a genuine enthusiasm —or at least great acting skills— to interact with people.
What’s more, she demonstrated a very receptive mind.
When prompted to talk about something which, as I suspected, is not a common practice (yet) at the company she works for, she didn’t mind having a conversation about that topic: as a matter of fact, not only did she seem to have listening skills, but also empathy. She even offered to speak about that subject with a colleague and to introduce me to that person.

What a different reaction and what an easy to talk with person! —I thought.
But wait: shouldn’t this be the standard behaviour you should expect from a HR professional?
Well, it turns out that’s not always the case.

All in all, I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter how many meetups about Agile a company holds or how many articles about its Agile transformation you can read: what really matters is how its employees behave, being the attitude of people within the HR department a quite significant indicator of the company’s culture.

To wrap up, a caveat for the executives of all those organizations allegedly involved in Agile transformations: watch out your HR professionals, they may betray your real culture.
If, when prompted to talk about something your company has never tried or a point it might be missing, they usually reply “this is not how we do things here”, chances are your Agile journey will be very long and painful.
As a matter of fact, you haven’t even started…




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2 thoughts on “The two sides of HR

  • April 12, 2019 at 06:27

    “If it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere is making a penny.” – Steven Wright

  • February 27, 2020 at 20:31

    I like your reflection and agree. Sadly, HR-people are just like all other people – very different. Some want to support people to grow and develop and take responsibility for their own and other peoples motivation, performance and learning. Some wants to focus on systems and processes, policies and compliance with the same. We can only work with people who are positive towards continuous improvement, experimentation and have a Y- view of others.

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