HR executives criticized for “whining”, lack of experience

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A Columbia Business School professor has criticized HR departments for hiring HR people who lack real-world experience.

Author and speaker Rita Gunter McGrath, who often talks about business strategy and innovation, said many HR executives have a “hole” in their resume.

“(Many organizations) are staffed by career HR people who may be very capable but whose knowledge of actual leadership activities is purely theoretical,” she wrote for the Wall Street Journal. “Companies should insist that nobody gets to have an important job in HR unless they have actually run a P&L, developed a strategy or executed against a major organizational change.”

She also criticized HR executives for “whining” about not having a “seat at the table”, instead of earning their spot there.

Lastly, McGrath pointed out that both HR and the entire business would benefit if other parts of the business dipped their feet in the area.

“Having respected line managers serve a stint in HR would do a lot for its reputation as a career backwater,” she said.

Do you agree with McGrath? Share your opinion in the comments.
  • Judy on 5/8/2014 9:13:15 AM

    I agree with the comment of having respected line managers serving a stint in HR. Too often, peers and other executives do not understand the depth of the job duties in human resources. I do have a question about how to "earn a spot at the table" if the executives of the company to not understand the importance of having HR there. I would like to see how the author would answer this question.

  • Loren on 5/8/2014 10:54:45 AM

    I agree that if, as the CHRO, you seize the strategic HR agenda and drive the Human Capital strategies your CEO is relieved and appreciates not having one more thing to worry about. In many companies, the Human Capital strategies can be the pivial competitve advantage. So CHRO's naturally get in the empowered position strong partnership in the company - think of HR in GE under Jack Welch.

    On Rita's comment about "developed a strategy or executed a major organization change," (real world experience) I don't know why any CEO would put someone in charge of HR who hadn't done that.

  • Al on 5/8/2014 12:32:44 PM

    From the top of the HR organization down to the bottom, there should be more experience in the areas mentioned above.

    What hurts the HR world is where you have HR Executives in their position without having the experience of actually doing the work of the lower levels within the HR Department. It is like the stories you heard about in Vietnam where the Lieutenant had no actual combat experience and whose unit had no confidence in his leadership ability.

    It's the same thing in today's business world. HR staff, from the bottom entry level positions to the upper management and director-level positions, rely on the leadership experience of their top HR person to both lead them down the road as well as have the experience and knowledge to answer difficult questions and make critical decisions affecting the organization.

    I feel that other departments should be brought in to experience the day-to-day activities in the HR Department, but I would never place people without HR experience in a position where their lack of knowledge in both the administrative and compliance-related areas of HR could compromise the company, especially in all legal matters.

    What's even worse is when you tinker on the brink of legality because your HR leader really doesn't have the right mindset to carefully and delicately lead the HR organization against all potential risks and challenges.

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