HR has a bad reputation, one that has persisted for years and is now generally accepted. We tend to see negative caricatures of HR as relatively harmless. But HR’s bad reputation isn’t harmless. It’s built upon myths.
Using the results of a 2021 APQC survey of HR leaders, I will dispel five common HR myths and explain why it’s so important for HR and business professionals to retire these myths for themselves and their organizations.
Myth No. 1: HR is stuck in the past
This myth claims the HR is satisfied with doing things the way they have always been done, and resistant to change.
The reality is that HR is leading the way for HR and organizational change.
Most of the HR leaders in our survey said that the structure of their HR function is effective. Yet most are also changing or planning to change their HR structure within the next two years. Why? They seek to leverage technology, align with the business structure, improve HR agility and increase HR automation. These aren’t the plans of leaders or functions that shy away from change.
In fact, 84% of HR functions centrally manage HR change. And, more than half have been successful in using HR technology to transform how HR carries out its work. In addition, HR leaders said that a top barrier to better HR performance is business resistance to change – not HR resistance.
Myth No. 2: HR is driven by intuition
This myth claims HR is reliant on experience and instincts to make decisions.
The reality is that HR is driving the agenda and setting the foundation for informing HR and workforce decisions with data and analytics.
Roughly half of HR functions have quality data that is easy to access and analyze. Just under half have HR systems and data that are integrated with business systems and data.
Integration allows connections to be made between HR, workforce and business data. So, it’s not surprising that at nearly two-thirds of organizations, HR and business leaders rely heavily on analytics to make workforce decisions and find this practice to be highly effective. Only 28% of HR leaders in our survey cited a lack of analytics-based decision making as a top barrier to better HR performance.
Myth No. 3: HR is mired in administrivia
This myth argues that HR has minimal capacity to move beyond performing transactional work.
The reality is that HR spends substantial time on strategic work and has the strategic outcomes to prove it.
HR leaders have taken steps to alleviate the burden of transactional HR work. More than half have increased the number of HR processes handled via shared services, and a similar proportion have substantially increased HR process automation.
On average, HR functions represented in our survey spend just under half of their time on strategic work. In fact, having too much transactional HR work was the least common barrier to better HR performance.
Indeed, HR leaders reported many positive strategic outcomes. For example, more than half reported high levels of employee engagement, while 43% had strong revenue per employee and 41% high returns on HR investment.
Myth No. 4: HR is out of touch with the business
This myth purports that HR lacks an understanding of business needs and the ability to execute on these needs.
The reality is that HR is aligned with the business’ overall strategy and its digital strategy. Roughly three-fourths of HR leaders said their HR strategy is tightly aligned with the business strategy and proving effective for meeting business goals.
A similar number of HR leaders indicated that at their organization, HR and business leaders have strong relationships. Finally, our survey shows that HR digitalization tends to mirror organizational digitalization, with 68% of organizations and 66% of HR functions reported to be highly digital.
Myth No. 5: HR is in the business of taking orders
This myth’s claim is HR lets business leaders direct what they work on and how they carry out this work.
The reality is that HR’s role as an organizational leader and influencer has never been greater.
70% of HR functions contribute significantly to the organization’s digital strategy. For nearly two-thirds of businesses, HR technology has been transformational, allowing employees to carry out their work in significantly different ways.
In our survey, advising/consulting skills were least likely to be ranked as HR skill deficiencies. Also important: Roughly half of HR leaders said that the role of their chief HR officer has been elevated by HR’s pandemic response.
Get to know the real HR
The problem with HR myths is that they not only hold back HR, but they also hold back workers and the business. These myths lower expectations for HR, which directly affects whether and how leaders, managers and employees collaborate with and are influenced by HR. In the end, this greatly limits the business contribution that HR and the workforce can make.
Today, as employees are said to be reconsidering their employment arrangements, business leaders should reconsider their view of HR. They should look at how this view impacts the organization’s ability to preempt unwanted resignations and get the best from employees over the long term.
HR professionals should know that, because of HR’s critical contributions during the pandemic, business colleagues have a better understanding of the value that HR brings. These colleagues are primed to collaborate with HR to enable the workforce to meet — or exceed — business goals.
Elissa Tucker is the principal research lead in human capital management at APQC, a non-profit business research organization. In this role, she develops and executes APQC’s human capital management (HCM) research agenda. With more than 15 years of experience researching HR, Tucker has completed research studies on HR strategy, strategic workforce planning, talent acquisition, talent development, and employee engagement. She is also a frequent contributor to HR events and publications.