HR: From devil’s lawyer to go with the flow
Everywhere there is a lot of communication about Human Resource Managers and Human Resource Management - but there is less communication with individual HR Managers in person. In these discussions everything revolves around the current processes and performance of HRM but the HR community increasingly talks about the overall prospective of “HR” as well. These controversial opinions, often expressed in unusual harsh tones in my view, were an occasion for me to start a serie of interviews with customers, partners and insiders of HR Management. Today I talk to Maya Droeschler – a known HR Expert and Consultant. We know each other via twitter and have an interesting virtual project in Berlin. Maya is giving often new and fresh impulses for HR via Social Platforms like LinkedIn. I would like to start by thanking her and would ask her to shortly introduce herself, before I start the interview.
Maya: A little over a year ago I quit my job as an HRBP to the CEO at the largest Danish company in the medical device industry. It was a great job, but my ambition to become an entrepreneur was stronger than my appreciation of my job, and now I work as an independent HR advisor at my own company pointofhr.com. I have more than 10 years of experience in the HR field and have worked in both HRBP and Manager roles in industries like Engineering and Retail. I have no formal HR or business education, it’s quite a scandal, but he truth is that I studied Literature and Philosophy at University, and as such I shouldn’t be able to understand business or anything else beyond Jane Austen and Thomas Mann. Despite this rather disadvantaged starting point I’ve learned what business is all about by being curious, asking questions and collaborating extensively with business managers during the years.
Peter: Thank you very much for your brief introduction. What is your position in HR Management or rather where are your links to HR Management?
Maya: I help small and midsize companies establish the framework for HR management practices with impact. I thrive on solving complex and challenging assignments and very often my role implies that I’m able to act as the devil’s lawyer: WHY do you want this tool? WHAT is it you wish to achieve by implementing this program? HOW will you manage to run this process? A lot of companies and HR departments believe they need this and that to stay competitive, but sometimes they forget to make an in-depth analysis of the problem, the context and their own resources. If these factors are not properly identified or realistically estimated, the supposed solution will not have the impact, the company or the client hoped for. A lot of HR activities and interventions go wrong by not getting this right in the first place. I know it may seem like a waste of time to investigate and analyze the problem, but I assure you, if you invest some intellectual effort in the initial phase and proper resources to execute in the last phase, you’ll save a lot of money in the long run.
Peter: What is your opinion of the current status or standing of HR Managers?
Maya: The variations are big; we’re certainly not talking about a homogenous group. Some HR Managers are very skilled, very smart, and some of them, to put it frankly, are bookkeepers in disguise. The variations, though, are not only due to the individual HR Managers’ competencies and preferences, but are largely due to the actual organizational context. I don’t believe in the pointing-fingers-at-HR-game, I believe that you have the HR department you deserve. In organizations where the human factor is acknowledged, HR typically has a strong and influential position, whereas the opposite is the case in organizations where the ruling ideology is that people are a necessary evil, a cost factor. No leader, no HR Manager, live and act on a desert island, it is very much the context that determines the individual leader’s ‘level of excellence’.
Peter: In your opinion, why is HR Management so often and to some extent fiercely criticized today?
Maya: I really can’t say. It’s like people are expecting miracles. Basically, HR is a weird construction. We own all the processes and programs, but we don’t own the outcomes of these processes. The HR role is like that of a midwife’s; we help the baby come into the world, but it’s not our baby. Besides that, I believe that HR is criticized, because humans tend to individualize problems. Individualization, the attribution of problems to an individual/a department/an institution, is far more convenient for our brains, than it is to try and analyze the complexity of context, belief systems and cultural & organizational forces. If HR is broken, it is not an HR problem, it is a business issue, it is a common concern. And in most cases, you won’t change much by merely replacing the HR people, you got, or implementing a new HR operating model, because the apparent inadequacy is embedded in a wildly complex system.
Peter: Where do you anticipate specific need for change in performance/service and provision of HR Management?
Maya: General trends like the gig economy, automation, digitization and artificial intelligence are going to have a huge impact on organizations and therefore on HR. I believe that the most urgent role that HR must play in the years to come is that of the caring guide. Our most important mission is to help employees and leaders make the transition from an industrial paradigm to a math paradigm. The old God was a production machine; the new God is an algorithm. A lot of people will feel overwhelmed by the changes in the workplace, caused by technology, mobility and globalization, and someone must take responsibility guiding these people on how to cope with the flow of change. That someone is HR. More particularly, I expect that the operational and tactical HR services will be handled by software, respectively business managers, and that only strategic frameworks and decisions will remain as a core HR discipline. And I wouldn’t be surprised, if new HR roles of a more relational nature will arise alongside the old transactional roles disappear. We’re going to hire more anthropologist as well as brain scientists and the focus will be on community facilitation, smart work design and brain-friendly working methods.
Peter: What will be the main focus/topics of HR Management in 10 years?
Maya: C h a n g e. We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift, which means there is this big transition to be handled. The first wave of the shift is about digitization and data; the second wave is about man-machine cooperation, intelligent bots and artificial assistants; and the third wave, well, my guess is as good as yours, but I think it will be about radical new ways of working and organizing work. The whole concept of work will undergo a profound transformation; education will no longer be one big block, located early in life, but rather an ongoing activity throughout life; and a majority of those who add value to the business in 2027 are not employed in any traditional way.
Basically, a lot of the HR tasks we know today will disappear. In return, we need to expand our knowledge of how to get teams of robots, permanent employees, independent contractors, employees from other companies, followers, fans, critics and customers to cooperate. Diversity gets a whole new meaning! We need to know where to find and engage value creators, it’s not the formal relation that matters anymore, it’s the value, people bring.
Peter: Now my final question 5+1 (for advice for my alumni and students): What would you advise young HR Managers or students, who seek a career in Human Resources? What should they pay attention to? What is and what will be important?
Maya: The most important personal attribute is curiosity. Always stay curious, always ask questions. Software and artificial intelligence can answer a question, but it cannot ask one. This is a crucial difference. Another important skill is the ability of critical thinking. Yesterday, I told my 13-year-old daughter that there are only 50 algorithm designers in the world, who all graduated from the same university and all work in Silicon Valley, and she immediately asked: ‘Who told you that?’ ‘What are their names?’ ‘How do you know there are only 50?’ ‘How many of them work for Facebook?’
Don’t take everything at face value. Regarding your future HR career, go with the flow. Things will change around you and you will change too. Be kind, be smart and be prepared to reinvent yourself more than once throughout your career. Best of luck!
Peter: Thank you very much for your insightful contribution. I wish you continued success, many friendly clients and at all times fresh and new ideas to further develop HR ideas.