Last week, Neil Morrison, HR director at publisher Random House, gave a short talkĀ  (7 mins) at the Stop Doing Dumb Things unconference. He talked about the role of HR in engaging the business internally – the focus of the unconference was on engagement, in particular employee engagement driving better customer engagement.

It was a fascinating, and in places eyebrow-raising, talk on the role of HR. Neil is not afraid to challenge perceived ideas of HR and this talk was no exception.

I have pulled out some of the points below. Watch the video if you have time . . .

In most organisations HR is the spoke in the wheel of the organisation rather than the oil that makes the cog turn.

Ask an HR director what’s important and they will say talent, succession, engagement and then you look at the team and 90% of what they work on is process and procedure and telling people what they can’t do.

So what to do? You have trust and control on a continuum and you decide where you go on that line. As organisations and HR we need to be shifting down to the trust end of the continuum by 80%.

Why do we have procedures to ‘control’ employees?

  1. It is easier.
  2. It is fear – if we take away this control people will do really bad stuff. Everyone is waiting to do bad stuff and it is only because I have this policy that you guys aren’t doing it.
  3. Calibre of HR people in the organisation. Most people are in HR ‘because they couldn’t get into nursery nursing’. We need HR people that are very good at building relationships with people in the business rather than hiding behind policy and procedure.

Humans want to be trusted and want to feel valued and we like to feel like we are something bigger, we don’t like to feel like we are being processed, controlled and we don’t like being told what we have to do.

So why set up our functions to do all the things people don’t want? We say people are our greatest asset and we are all about engagement. Well we are not. We do stupid stuff.

Neil then went on to talk about his experience of being an HRD at Random House. He says there is no distinction between HR and the business in his organisation. It is about working with people as humans not as processes, he says.

He has, for example, stripped down the policies and rewritten in the ‘lightest possible way’.

We also recruit people who can have conversations, who are empathetic.