Does HR Shoot Itself In the Foot?

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the annual SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) conference in Las Vegas, which I was very impressed with in almost every respect.  Gathering 14,000 HR professionals and keeping them engaged, energized, and pointing toward the future (the slogan was “We Know Next”) isn’t an easy task– and SHRM and its many volunteers did an outstanding job.  There was only one thing that disturbed me: the seemingly ubiquitous “I Love HR” logo items (t-shirts, stickers, teddy bears, etc.).

Does "I Love HR" really send the wrong message?

I know that sounds like there should be a punch line there somewhere – “you’re upset about teddy bears, really?” — but I’m actually serious about that.  I believe that the “I Love HR” message is quite self-defeating.  Here’s why.

The “Seat at the Table” Conversation

I wrote last week about HR’s unique positioning as an “internal external” consultant – i.e., sharing perspectives that others are too close to the battle to see.  Ironically, HR isn’t excluded from this truth, of course – i.e., we’re too close to our own issues to see them clearly, just like everyone else.  (Example: HR is notoriously bad at resolving performance issues within our own department, at the same time that we are able fix these same problems in other departments).

Speaker after speaker at the conference addressed the long-running dilemma of how HR can get a decision-making “seat at the table” in our organizations.  Said differently: “How can we get them (executives) to take us seriously as people who solve hardcore business issues?”  An important issue for most of us, indeed.  The only problem is, we often spend so much time directly or indirectly “defending” our function, we forget to talk about the thing we’re supposedly most interested in … the business

Are Teddy Bears Really A Problem?

Personally, I have a great fondness for “trinkets” and memorabilia (as evidenced by a growing collection of shot glasses from around the country, despite the fact that I don’t drink!).  Thus, I enjoyed browsing the SHRM store at the conference – where I found most of the items very reinforcing of professional pride (particularly the PHR – Professional in Human Resources – and other certification-related items).  Why then was I so disturbed by t-shirts, teddy bears, and paper weights emblazoned with the “I Love HR” logo?  Isn’t it a good thing to “love” your profession, and to share that message with others?

It is a good thing, of course.  But I think we’re proclaiming our “love” for the wrong thing, at least visibly and publicly.  To wit, what would your “seat-at-the-table” CEO want you loving: HR, or … the business?  HR is simply a means to an end – that is, a way (or function) for helping the organization achieve its best purposes (i.e., profitability, stability, introduction of valuable products and services, etc.) through and with its employees.  What HR is not is an end in itself – and this is why I think we lose credibility by constantly drawing attention to our function. 

Somehow, the “I Love HR” message seems defensive – as if we need to convince ourselves and others that what we do is valuable or worthy of “love”. (I can’t picture accountants wearing “I Love Accounting” buttons – but perhaps they do).  Along the lines of those “who doth protest too much,” I wonder if we’re so busy “making our case” that we call attention to ourselves for the wrong reasons.

I heard a quote the other day to the effect of, “If you want to end ___ ism (racism, sexism, etc.), stop talking about it.”  It seems like we do the opposite by talking about “HR” again … and again … and again, much to our detriment.  If we’re really helping move the organization forward, won’t people see that, without us constantly bringing it up? 

A Different Image

I realize I’m probably taking the whole thing too seriously, of course (I mean, it’s only a logo, after all).  Yet and still, I have to wonder … what different message would it send if the CEO walked into our office one day and saw something that said “I Love Our Business,” instead.  Now, that might make an impression … without saying a word.

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