Rebranding HR

Some weeks ago, I accompanied a team I occasionally co-work with to introduce a project to one of their clients. The presentation was via Teams (a classic) and, to my surprise, the person who connected from the client company had the camera off during the entire conversation, without any kind of apology. Her questions and comments about the proposal showed that she did not know her internal client (who had asked for the project) at all. When we finished the conversation, the first thing I did was to think about my clients: never ever in all these years of video calls have I had a conversation with someone who doesn’t turn on their camera. Secondly, I felt bad for that team, who had worked so hard with a client who didn’t even bother to respect the slightest corporate politeness. Thirdly, I looked up on LinkedIn the profile of the faceless person I had spoken to and was surprised to see that she was the manager of a department called “People & Culture”. What’s the point of calling yourself “People & Culture” if you obviously don’t know your internal customer and don’t care what image you (and therefore your company) give to an external customer (in this case, potential suppliers)?

In recent years, the department formerly known as “Human Resources” has undergone (and continues to undergo) the most diverse naming changes: “people”, “people and culture”, “talent and purpose”, “talent and organisation”, “corporate development”, … Some options are more down-to-earth, others more metaphysical and all, I suppose, demonstrate the effort to give another air to a department that for years has been receiving nicknames from its internal customer such as “Inhuman Resources” or “the greys” (always with honourable exceptions, of course). The exercise of renaming the department is certainly to be welcomed, but the name is simply the tip of the iceberg. The process of rebranding the HR area goes far beyond deciding on a name that suddenly seems cooler or more aspirational. In other words, there is no point in changing the name if we are not really aware of the impact we have (or should have) on our internal and external customers. This is not just about being aware of our tone and form, it is also about rethinking tools, processes, formats, even external partners.

Rebranding HR means having the courage to evolve the narrative, to embrace a new perspective and once and for all stop investing time in zombie projects and labyrinthine tools whose language and approach are at the antipodes of what the internal customer really needs. Unfortunately, on countless occasions I see HR teams for whom being in touch with their internal customer consists of sending out surveys or the online test of the latest tool, but who have never actually had a coffee or spoken face-to-face with that customer. They often call it “business”, as if we, the people area, are not “business” as well.

I have not the slightest doubt that all people departments work with the best of intentions, but there is still talk of “being strategic” when in reality making strategies that cannot be applied operationally is the most absurd thing there is. It is still thought that “a good product” is sophisticated and complex (which in practice means expensive and difficult to implement) without thinking that, most of the time, it is a product that is not easy to understand or use by those who have to use it.

As in so many circumstances, it is always good to ask ourselves a couple of questions: How often do we talk directly to the front-line teams (where there is more turnover, by the way, and where the critical mass of our internal customer is)? To what extent do we think about and involve the end user in everything we launch? Why are we afraid to eliminate those tools created in the 90s that have long since given us more work than satisfaction?

In short, rebranding HR (or whatever name is decided in each organisation) is as simple as being consistent with what we call ourselves and what we do. It is not a question of strategies or visions, but of clarity and consistency. Let’s be honest with ourselves, we are worth it.

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