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The Essential Role of HR?!

HR is “often ineffective, incompetent, and costly.” (Dave Ulrich, HBR , Jan-Feb 1998). And, I am being an HR professional, would sadly agree with Ulrich, as the HR in many organizations are so as stated. This is mainly due to two reasons, we’ll go into more details about them in this article, taking into consideration that I’m concentrating on the HR in the MENA region, out of my work experience as an employee and then as a consultant. The first reason is due to the managerial illiteracy of the organization’s manager (the owner). The other reason is due to the incompetency of the HR department as a whole, and the HR Manager.

Don’t take my words wrong in agreeing with Ulrich about the HR in general, it is not generalized to all HR; In fact, getting to the point the whole organization is or becomes a professional entity is the sole job of the HR. Yes, that much is the importance of the HR function. But, I’m saying this due to those two reasons, and out of many frustrations of vast work experience.

THE PROBLEM of the comprehension of the idea of “The Essential Role of HR.”

The issue of managerial illiteracy of the business manager, where more often is the owner, is being faced in many organizations. I don’t mean that all family business owners are illiterate, nor I mean that all family businesses are a managerial failure. I’m saying, the long debate that HR is solely conceived as administrative work, for documentation, taking attendance, for preparing residences and visas, or managing the travel arrangements of the employees, is solely due to managerial illiteracy.

Such illiteracy would arise problems or incidents of cases as (which actually happened, and I myself witnessed):

  • Decisions are taken due to gossip from different business units’ managers or even low rank employees. The worst of it is that these are critical decisions, decisions which direct the whole business, not day to day operations.
  • Decisions are made on lack of information, where major data are missing. I once was a consultant for a group of companies, where the accounting department works separate from all other departments; actually, each department works alone as a separate entity, with no payroll data handed to the finance department or issued from them, also has no access to purchasing and suppliers data, and has no access to Bank accounts’ statements!!! I’m not joking, I faced this situation, and it is a multi Million Dollars family group of companies.
  • The HR, or any other department, has to prove any scientifically tested and proven procedure, suggestion or even opinion. The HR becomes the advocate of the processes, procedures, or any HR discipline. Come on, you bring a professional to tell you what to do, not you to tell him/her what to do and how to do it; otherwise, why you bring him/her on board from first!
  • The wife or son of the manager (owner) can many times share in the decision making. Once, I was a consultant for a business, where the owner’s wife can occasionally roam the directors’ offices and give new instructions, policies, or directions of work. Thanks God, it was not much, about once a week, up to her free time!

Now, moving to the other reason why HR is not taken seriously is due to, sadly saying, the incompetency of the HR in charge, educational wise, experience wise, or ethical wise. I’ve seen many HR “professionals” who are in that seat because they are good chit chat people, are very “social”, or have read a couple of HR books. Nowadays, every body can debate or talk about HR, what is and what is not HR, or what are or not the responsibilities and duties of HR. Everybody can be an HR person, no need for HR certificate, no need even for any Business related certificate. Any body who can solve some employees problems can be nominated to an HR position; Wow, he/she is a “people” person!


HR is a science, a research and application, HR has to master these two the research and the application. HR is a continuous process to increase the job satisfaction of the people, continuous development, continuous upgrade of value. HR is a highly complex function, with specialization, studies and researches in every and each of its disciplines. For example, one can specialize in Recruitment only, and dive in the researches of psychology, recruitment methods and styles, theories and studies, scientific methods of evaluations and testing. Now there are experts in compensations and benefits, talent management, managing development and learning processes, diversity, effective succession planning processes, and organizational effectiveness.

HR should always be the support for the top management, strategically, and in all its stages, from the strategy formulation to the on ground or market execution. HR should say what to do about managing people, and should not wait until being told what to do. Because, if the HR waited to be instructed, then will be instructed to do the administrative work, again.

HR people have to delve into the business information, details, financial reports, in order to be effective. HR people should have analytical and interpersonal skills to assist in the organization’s effectiveness and change issues, focusing on learning, quality, teamwork, and processes re-engineering.

As well as, HR should be the final defense of the employee against any in-justice or unfairness which could be faced by any party in the organization. I’ve seen some HR Managers being unfair and against the employee’s interests in order to play it safe with the top management, in order to show how much he/she is saving for the company, without knowing the great damage this might cause to the morals of the employees. HR should always take the employee’s side, as long as that doesn’t oppose with the company’s policies nor contradicts with the company’s interests.

As Jack Welch stated it clearly, “no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the [firm’s] mission and understand how to achieve it.” 

You can’t imagine how much analytics the HR can generate for the benefit of management formulation of the strategy and decisions. The influence of the HR is nowadays clear, manageable, quantifiable and can be represented in numbers which have direct effect on the bottom line. Aha, businessmen will say now we got to the point, now we are talking, the “bottom line”. Then, the HR should be defined by the results it delivers and by its value, not by the documentation traditional work.

A new dilemma here arises, some would say,”OK, now we know that the HR should have a seat among the top management, and share in formulating the strategy. But, who would do the administrative work, personnel files, and other documents’ processing…?” This is a different story, contact me if you want to know about the separation, different roles or divisions.

I would love to hear from you! Please comment adding your opinion or any incidents you would like to share, add whatever comments you’d like even if it is out of this article’s subject, or suggest whatever title you’d like me to write about in my future articles.

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