Articles, Organizational Change

HR stuck in the middle: management versus people

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in May 2014 ……


Today, it is clear that  HR, in most organizations, is not yet playing a strategic role of thinking about and preparing for the future workplace.  I asked 314 organizations around the world the following question:

“Which parts of your organization are thinking about and preparing for the future workplace?

This includes strategy and practical guidance. It covers new people skills such as online collaboration, leading virtual teams, participatory management, socially driven work practices. It also includes thinking about where people work, how to facilitate mobility, what is required in building facilities and services and so on.”

HR was identified as being involved in 50% (of the Majority of organizations) to 60% (in Early Adopter organizations). Data from “The Digital Workplace in the Connected Organization”.

Performance: collaborative, not individual

A traditional role of HR is establishing the performance management systems of organizations. This is almost always based on individual performance. Today’s workplace requires new ways of working, in particular, a focus on collaboration and much less on individual performance.

HR, a potential solver of discrepancies between words and action

From what I’ve seen, HR is often stuck between what management wants them to do, and what they need to be doing for the people. If people are being encouraged to share information and knowledge (=words), yet they are evaluated based on individual performance (actions), it creates an underlying conflict. If management (iPads in hand) are championing digital transformation (words), then the floor-field workforce must be connected through mobile (actions). And so on.

HR should represent the people, and at the same time, understand the big picture and the management perspective.   HR can talk to top management. HR can influence strategies. HR can help connect the words with the actions. The problem today is that in most organizations, this is not yet happening.