Human Resources: Why They Do Not Lead Change
by Dr. Ichak Adizes
In thirty years of consulting to companies worldwide, I have never succeeded in getting in and leading change via the Human Resources department. I have learned over time that if I am assigned to the Human Resources department, it is the kiss of death to any major initiatives for change. Nothing will happen. We will have endless meetings and discussions, but eventually the most that will happen is a workshop of a day or two, and that is it.
As a rule when I discuss needed changes with a CEO I discourage him or her from bringing the Human Resources VP because I already know from experience that this VP will drag his feet until the initiative dies, or the “mountain will give birth to a little mouse” and we will end up with a new workshop on communication skills or some team-building “feel good today” program. If the focus is second-and third-degree change, a paradigm shift in what the company does or should do or in how it proceeds in achieving its goals which requires some structural changes or significant new resource allocation, the Human Resources people will block it in a most polite way by dragging their feet until the initiative dies. (I am using Watzlavik’s framework: the first degree of change is in what you do, the second is in how you go about it, and the third degree of change is in changing why you do what you do.
What is going on?
Why is the Human Resources role detrimental to change while CEOs, marketing officers, chief technology officers, and chief strategists in the company embrace the need for change?
This question is of special importance because everyone sings the praises of the key role of Human Resources in having a successful company. Nevertheless the Human Resources department, by and large, has the least clout and power base in a company. They are hardly ever consulted on major strategic initiatives, in spite of the fact that the tendency of Human Resources to resist change could be the major reason why those initiatives might fail.
Again: What is going on?
A well-managed organization is effective and efficient in the short and long run.
To be effective in the long run, it needs to be proactive to change. It needs to change as the foreseeable future dictates.
To lead change when there is no full certainty what that future is going to be involves creativity and the ability to take risks. That is not what the Human Resources departments do, nor it is the style of the people that staff Human Resources departments.
The tasks of the Human Resources Department, by and large, involve administrative roles: salary and benefits administration, hiring and firing, training which is geared to make people more effective and more efficient in what they are already doing. It is linear change. Better or more but not different. Not disruptive change.Not development, although the department is called Human Resources Development.
Disruptive change is too scary for Human Resources, because it introduces stress in labor relations. In other words, the role of the Human Resources department is not focused on proactive gestaltive change. It deals mostly with efficiency and administration.
As a result of the role expected, the style of those who end up in Human Resources is administrative. Many of them are also humanistic and warm-hearted, but they are administrative types in their style. They are not the aggressive, change-oriented types, like marketing and strategic planning people need to be. They are friendly and see that everything works according to the rules and procedures. As a result, they are not allies for change. The HR department finds major change disturbing to their purpose of maintaining order and to their need for harmony and industrial peace.
What can be done?
My recommendation to all the companies I have consulted to is to have two different departments for the human resources function. One deals with administration and is called HRA (Human Resources Administration). It is involved with salary administration, performance evaluations, hiring, firing and training employees to better perform within the present structure and roles. The second department is HRD (Human Resources Development) which deals with adjusting organizational charts and the necessary role changes that accompany such adjustments, OD team building and communication improvement, coaching middle management, serving as the ombudsmen for people employed in the company, etc. This department worries about the future, and how to prepare the organization for that future while HRA worries about the present and how to make it most efficient.
Will the two departments be in conflict?
That is why each time a company is structured where HRD is expected to perform both roles, for all intents and purposes, there is no human resources development going on in that company. The efficient bureaucrats of HRA will stifle any efforts of the OD people to lead change. The HRD people will be considered inefficient and insufficiently effective by those who measure success by present efficiencies and results. In that organization, HRD will die or get so co-opted that its role of coleading change will decay to zero.
In their structure organizations should not mix roles that are supposed to produce efficiency in the short run with roles that are supposed to produce effectiveness in the long run. My experience shows that it simply does not work.
For more information about why a complementary team is necessary for having a sustainable, successful company and how to structure the company correctly in light of it, read one of the two new books by the author: The Ideal Executive, Why You Cannot Be One and What To Do About It or Management/Mismanagement Styles, both published by the Adizes Institute and available from www.adizes.com