The setting was like a boxing gala. 300+ people in the audience, four panel members and the talk host on a platform in the middle.
The subject: what did 20 years of HR bring us, and what is the agenda of HR going forward. There were five rounds of discussion. About if HR should care more about the wellbeing of employees, if HR should measure more and better, why the gap between theory and practice is so big and the changing role of HR in virtual organizations.
The panel leader was clearly hired to stir us up. And her perception of HR was based on the status of HR fifteen years ago or so. Her opening question to me: “On your business card I read: Corporate Director HR. Why not just Personnel Manager?” Another one, always in the repertoire of HR-bashers: Is HR not too important to leave in the hands of HR? Ha ha. The discussion took the usual route. HR should be a business partner. HR is a profession, as Finance is a profession. In most organizations HR is part of the management team. The split in HR services and high level HR advice is now implemented in a lot of organizations. HR will be smaller but better.
One of the panel members was a university professor (in HR). He had been listening to us (HR Directors modern style) and reflected. It was all true what we said. But in his view HR should not forget one important element: that HR is to be considered as the guardian of the values. Business partners, number crunchers, virtual MT members, resource managers, all good. But please do not forget the important role of HR as the guardian of the values. This was his main contribution, but an important one. We never got to discuss the gap between university and business. During the drinks afterwards the panel leader turned out to be very entertaining and the group had a nice evening, discussing everything but the role of HR.