HR's Real Purpose

By Desda Moss Aug 12, 2015

Carol_Anderson.jpgA couple of months ago, the Society for Human Resource Management published Repurposing HR: From a Cost Center to a Business Accelerator by Carol E. M. Anderson, SHRM-SCP. She is the founder and principal of Anderson Perfomance Partners in St. Augustine, Fla.

Repurposing HR explains how and why eliminating organizational silos and fostering collective thinking can lead HR to improve the performance and productivity of the workforce. The book, according to Dr. Sandra J. Guerra, SHRM-SCP, past president of the Greater Orlando Society for Human Resource Management, “provides an insightful and thought-provoking road map” to guide HR and other business leaders in advancing an organization’s goals.

The HR Magazine Book Blog interviewed Anderson.

Why did you write the book?

I think that HR is running out of time, and if we don’t act on pressing business issues like talent and performance, someone else will. Talent has been a significant business issue for years, but based upon current research, HR is not helping to solve the problem. In Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report, HR practitioners graded themselves a C- (1.65 on a five-point scale) on effectiveness, with no improvement from a 2014 score. What’s worse: Operational leaders gave HR a D+ (1.32 on a five-point scale).
So far in 2015, Forbes thinks "Human Resources Is Dead," Harvard Business Review wants to "Blow Up HR," Fortune says "Goodbye to HR," and McKinsey wants to "Get Beyond the Bureaucracy in HR." HR’s heart is in the right place, but we aren’t solving real business problems. To do that requires a shift from thinking as a cost center to thinking as a business owner.
I’ve looked at HR books and consultants for answers, but they told me what I need to do, not how to do it. As an HR leader, I have had success in bringing together diverse parts of HR to collectively look at our work as a whole, focusing on adding value, and really listening to our customers. It struck me that might just be a good start to the “how” question. I wanted to provide a way for HR practitioners to think about their work as part of the business, not as a risk management requirement that placed them in opposition to the very people they were there to help. The RoadMap evolved from that initial idea.

Who is the book written for?

I wrote the book for HR professionals who are tired of fighting battles and putting out fires, who really want to be valued business leaders and partners; who want their work to contribute to the organization’s bottom line. The RoadMap and StopOvers can help HR teams make a major strategic shift. It is a way for HR to engage operational leaders in owning and being accountable for the people part of the business, rather than accepting responsibility for failings of leadership. It is time to help operational leaders realize their leadership responsibilities.
I also wrote the book for HR’s C-Suite partners because HR cannot do this alone. In essence, that’s what HR programs are all about—providing a framework for leaders to lead.

What are the most important take-aways from the book?

The most important take-away, from my perspective, is to get back to the business of the organization. Operational leaders are going to listen when HR says that they can help drive revenue, reduce expenses or gain market share. Otherwise, it’s just all HR fluff. But by starting with “I can help you improve performance,” an HR practitioner is grabbing their attention. That opens the door to talking about behaviors that need to change in order to improve performance (in reality, it’s all about behavior), how best to implement change, and what outcome is expected. That leads to dialogue about what is or isn’t happening and why, and whether or not that is okay with the operational leaders, because they are the ones who must make the change.

In the book you say that HR needs to shift away “from thinking as experts in subdisciplines to thinking collectively.” Why?

HR is complicated, and there is added complexity in compensation, employee relations, talent acquisition and learning/development. Each discipline has its own “best practices.” Time and time again, I have watched (and been part of) HR teams that completely overwhelmed an organization by introducing several disparate and separate programs, each requiring a lot of work on the part of leaders and causing confusion among employees.
A friend recently joined a new organization and was describing all of the HR programs that their leaders had responsibility to do: semi-annual performance reviews, action planning for the results of the employee survey, talent and succession management, salary reviews, stay interviews . . . each with a different set of criteria for them to discuss with employees. The real issue is that leaders need to have meaningful conversations with their employees. By prescribing all of these pieces and parts at different times, and disconnected from each other, the leaders only see “more HR work.”
The old adage, “if everything is important, nothing is important” is instructive, especially at a time when everyone is craving simplicity. HR programs are simple message points to help leaders execute effectively.

How does an HR leader know that his/her team has repurposed itself from a cost center to a “business accelerator”?

That’s a really good question. It takes a bit of courage, but ask your operational leaders. They are the ones who can give you feedback about whether or not you are accomplishing what you want to accomplish.

How does the book support SHRM’s Competencies Model?

I love the leadership and navigation competency, because it really is what the RoadMap is all about—placing HR as a leader in the people part of the business, and facilitating how the organization navigates change and improves performance. The competency model is comprehensive, and the behaviors described in each of the competencies are key elements of each of the StopOvers. From my perspective, the book helps show you how to become adept at the competency.

Is there anything else you want to tell us?

I’ll close by saying that HR cannot make operational leaders do anything and achieve an effective outcome. HR has to create a link to business results, and facilitate a dialogue about what operational leaders are willing to do to achieve those results. By letting go of the compliance mandate that HR clings to, and focusing on real business results, HR can give operational leaders a compelling reason to change.

About Book Reviews

HR Magazine's Book Reviews keep you up to date on must-read titles related to HR and other business topics through weekly book reviews, author posts and recommendations. Looking for a good read? Visit the SHRMStore, our online bookstore, for a wide selection of HR books from multiple authors and disciplines, or sign up for a weekly e-newsletter, which highlights new titles and special offers.

For more information on how to contribute to the reviews, view our author guidelines.

View SHRM Books that support HR Behavioral Competencies

Join Our Book Group

Discuss your favorite HR book on SHRM Connect in the SHRM Book Group.

You can also interact with the SHRM editorial staff and learn about SHRM editorial and publishing operations at the SHRM Publishing and E-Media Group on SHRM Connect.


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job

Apply by October 19

Get recognized as an HR expert. Earn your SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certification, and set yourself apart.

Apply Now


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect