Recent complaints about the HR function have touched a nerve in a large, sympathetic audience, particularly in the United States. The most vocal critics say that HR managers focus too much on “administrivia” and lack vision and strategic insight.
These feelings aren’t new. They’ve erupted now and in the past because we don’t like being told how to behave—and no other group in organizational life, not even finance, bosses us around as systematically as HR does. We get defensive when we’re instructed to change how we interact with people, especially those who report to us, because that goes right to the core of who we are. What’s more, HR makes us perform tasks we dislike, such as documenting problems with employees. And it prevents us from doing what we want, such as hiring someone we “just know” is a good fit. Its directives affect every person in the organization, right up to the top, every single day.
The complaints also have a cyclical quality—they’re driven largely by the business context. Usually when companies are struggling with labor issues, HR is seen as a valued leadership partner. When things are going more smoothly all around, managers tend to think, “What’s HR doing for us, anyway?” Read more on HBR.com