The future of HR, part 1: Is HR reinforcing the status quo?

Through this new series I will try to fuel the discussion about the future of HR. Personally  I am struggling somewhat to see a clear future.
“Images of Organization” has always been a great inspiration, since its appearance in 1986. In the book Morgan introduces the use of metaphors to understand and deal with organization problems, describing the organization as: machines, organisms, brains, cultures, political systems, psychic prisons, flux and transformation, and instruments of domination.
Unfortunately the dominant metaphor, both for leaders and employees in organizations, is still the organization as a machine. Or in comparable metaphors: the organization as an army or the organization as a sports team. Look at the language used, in speeches by CEO’s, on the Corporate intranets and in the numerous newsletters.

  • “All the noses need to point in the same direction”
  • “We need alignment at the top”
  • “Seamless delivery is key”
  • “We need clear accountability and responsibilities”
  • “Leaders have to lead from the front”
  • “We need two successors for every key position”
  • “People are are most important asset”
  • “You have to lead by example”
  • “Our people go where we put the carrots”
  • “We have got to mobilize our people”
  • “We all need to speak the same language”
  • “Utilization is eroding”
  • “Goal setting”
  • “Integration”
  • “Without understanding the strategy, we cannot go forward”
  • “Consistency”
  • “Deployment”
  • “Lean and mean”
  • “Avoid redundancy”
  • “Benchmarking”

Is HR helping to reinforce the dominant  mental images, or is HR trying to install new images? I’m afraid many of the current HR practices are instruments to strengthen classical organizational models. Performance management is an example. In most organizations this is clearly an instrument to spread orders from the top throughout the organization. The practice of organization charts and job profiles has clear connections with a military organization. This is your box, and this is what you are expected to do in your box, and to what other boxes you can connect. Competency frameworks are the same. What are the skills you have to add to your repertoire if you want to grow for sergeant to general?
Most bonus systems are designed with a very simple view on the human mind: people are motivated by material (monetary) rewards.
Personally I am guilty as well of course; I’m ready to take the blame. The challenge is what is next. Can HR renew itself, and develop and implement the interventions that help organizations renew, and to be ready to deal with their clients issues in the best possible way? Examples and suggestions are most welcome!

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