Karin’s Leadership Articles

I’ve been noticing a pattern with some of my clients when I utter the word “HR”–the proverbial eye roll. “What does HR say?” Queue the eye roll. “I think an important next step would be to bring HR on board.” An eye roll rapidly followed by, “Do we have to?” Now before I completely tick off the entire SHRM organization, please know I’m on your side.

I spent the first decade of my career in HR. I spent the next decade keeping my HR and Finance partners as close as possible. In fact, my support team was so valuable in my sales exec role, I gave up revenue generating headcount to build critical staff support functions.

4 Reasons HR Gets a Bad Rap

So if you’re an awesome strategic partner full of confident humility and strategic vision, with a seat at the table, and focused on business results, please comment and share your secret.

If you’re in HR and not getting the respect you want, or if you’ve suffered through a bad HR experience, please share your words of wisdom as well.

1. Weak Talent

Of course this is a real head scratcher that can damage the credibility of the entire HR organization. The HR (or training) organization becomes the dumping ground for people who struggled to “carry a bag” in the sales function or meet their P & L in an executive role. After all they’ve “always been good with people,” so someone “saves” them by moving them to an HR role where they can do “less harm.”

Of course no one says any of this out loud, but the masses are watching. Your A players are watching the most closely, so if this is the game, you can bet your 9 box performance potential grid, they’ll have no interest in an HR assignment, even to round out their resume.

You need YOUR BEST players managing your people strategy, not your leftovers. And even letting one or two mediocre players hang on diminishes credibility for an organization proposing candidates or offering advice on performance management.

2. Disconnected Metrics

If the most important HR metrics are anything other than tangible business results, you’ll never be a serious strategic partner.  Sure you can have process metrics like “time to staff positions” or “diversity profiles,” but HR departments that are focused primarily on such metrics lose focus and make stupid recommendations that result in the wrong candidates being hired or promoted for the wrong reasons.

3. Power trips

I’ve seen witch hunts, goose chases and all kinds of stupidity when a frustrated HR person gets caught up in the power of their position rather than what’s right for the business or for the human beings inside it.

4. Blinding rules and regulations

Strategic HR people sit at the table offering highly creative solutions to real business problems. Sure, they offer advice and stay on the right side of compliance, the law, and the overall good, but stupid adherence to policies that make no business sense will immediately cause people to work around you, rather than inviting you to the bigger conversation.

HR belongs at the table. The best HR folks I know are business leaders first, who also happen to have amazing expertise in HR.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Paul LaRue

    Couldn’t agree more Karin! I also think it’s a combination of HR falling into a silo, and other departments shunning HR being part of the organizational team because they feel they get in the way and slow things down. When either of those happen, HR gets marginalized instead of being an incredible resource within the company.

    • Karin Hurt

      Paul, Excellent add. I so agree

  2. Jim Ryan

    I agree Karin. There seems to be two types of HR leaders, those that play “police” and those who work to strengthen the organization. We need more of the latter.

    • Karin Hurt

      Jim. Amen.

  3. Tony Goddard

    Karin – I agree with all you say. But would add the following that HR staff need to do to build credibility
    1 Make sure they go and do a frontline job for a couple of weeks so at least they know what it’s like eg sales, production

    2 Make sure they understand and can read a P&L – then they can really understand what’s going on and what’s likely to happen next

    3 Get away from the policy manual and understand if a policy helps or hinders the people you are trying to support

    4 Say what you think (diplomatically. Nothing irritates people more than HR people that sit on the fence

    • Karin Hurt

      Tony, YES, YES, YES, and YES!

  4. David Tumbarello

    I see HR as the responsible adult in a room that is mixed with adults, parents, and (sometimes ineffective) children. I don’t mean to say that in a derogatory way. Certain co-workers take on the role of the parent, others take on the role of the child, and the last group takes on the role as adult. HR ensures that there will be at least one adult in the room. Again, I say this in a respectful way to all parties – I feel most of us are on a journey to learn how be adults in the room but we are limited by our make-up and our experiences. The way I see it, HR is the responsible adult that has the “bird’s eye view” and protects the interest of the organization and the workers. Sometimes a delicate task.

    • Karin Hurt

      David, Ideally that is so true. I also have seen times when HR gets sucked into the drama…

  5. LaRae Quy

    I’ve not been in HR, Karin, but I do the know the devastasting effects of “dumping” poor performers into a department where they will “do the least amount of harm.”

    When this happens, both the morale and standards of the department are affected…I think many times HR takes on the “fix the people”responsibility—so what is more logical than placing the folks who need “fixed” into HR!

    Great article!

    • Karin Hurt

      Larae,So agree. It happens in lots of places, not just HR. It makes me crazy when managers move a problem rather than fix it.

  6. Steve Borek

    HR becoming strategic starts with the CEO. I’ve coached numerous HR professionals and they’re under enormous amounts of pressure to deliver results to the bottom line. It’s an extremely stressful position. Why? HR does not receive the required resources to get their job done.

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, Thanks. Excellent point. My best partnering when I was in HR was at the President level. That’s where you can have the biggest impact. It’s also important for HR partners at every level of the business to have the confidence to ask for what they need.

  7. Joy Guthrie

    Many HR people would love to become part of the strategic view; but, feel very marginalized. I had great success with my HR partners by bringing them in early on what I was thinking, getting their input, and insure they led key aspects of what we were doing. Get HR involved!

    • Karin Hurt

      Joy, I so agree. It’s hard to be strategic when no one shares the big picture. Treating HR as a partner will help them be more of a partner. Excellent add.

  8. Chery Gegelman

    I love the vision in #4! Yes that’s what HR should be!

    And oh yes – the temptation of ego and power – have led many a good leader astray!

    At one point in my career I witnessed an HR Manager and an Executive that both struggled with the need win the ego war.

    A candidate from another state was flown in for an interview, HR requested that the candidate do the drug test locally, the executive didn’t think it was important.

    Ultimately the candidate had to be flown back just for a drug screen.

    A sick waste of time and money for the business, a great reason to plan doubt about the company in the candidate’s mind, and a visual I will never forget about how much the quest for power can destroy a leader’s focus on the company mission and the people they serve.


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