Is HR Dead? Why old HR doesn't work and how to change it before it is dead in the water?

Let me start by saying that I am passionate about HR and the profession (and I really do mean that) and through my research on where HR is today and what it needs to do in the future, I have come across the first question almost on a daily occasion across many different countries, forms (mediums) and thoughts (the same question but put slightly different). 

One of the main reasons (there were many more) why I wrote my book (1) was to see if there was value in answering the question “is HR dead?” It’s important to note that I am neither an alarmist or a pessimist, but I have had an itch that I’ve been unable to scratch which meant that in the end I had to do something about it. I will be looking at aspects of my book in the future when I do my PhD/DBA.

The answer to both questions above i.e. is HR dead and why old HR doesn’t work is quite simple; the value that HR gives today generally is not where it should be. Sadly, the answer is “it’s pretty close to being dead in the water if, HR doesn’t change and evolve”. 

How do I know this? There was some fantastic global research that I found which looked at HR over a period of 10 years; it looked statistically where HR spends most of its time and on average this only equated to around 28% in the value-added part. If you were to examine your HR team today what would your statistic be I wonder?

So, let me ask a direct question to you the reader; what is the modern-day role of HR and where can I find the core elements of what the role should be doing?  I here lots of people talk about what HR should be e.g. Dave Ulrich (2) mentions ‘being a credible activist’ and the CIPD (3) quote the following:

“HR is about helping an organisation to create value through its people – literally providing human resources. The work of an HR professional will vary depending on the type and size of their organisation, but could include recruiting people, training and developing employees, and helping to decide how staff should be paid and rewarded. There are even roles which focus on employment law….”

Just looking at the above what is the definition of creating value (as I believe if you ask 10 HR professionals this question that you will get 10 different answers) and what does providing human resources mean both now and in the future? 

In addition, pose this question to your-self, where are you spending the majority of your time and is what you are working on the priority or aligned to the company’s strategy, vision etc. If it’s not please re-evaluate your plans and adjust accordingly etc?

For me there is a missing #HRNorthStar which must give HR the direction of what the value add is in the 21st Century; what are the primary areas of focus e.g. in the board room are you as HR professional influential (don’t answer this yourself, ask your CEO), are you Mr and Mrs HRD/CPO helping the CEO to shape the future and how much admin is your doing vs real HR Business Partnering. These are tough questions and you need to be brave to answer them, but I hope you get the point which I am trying to me.

Without the above questions being addressed (as well as many more), HR is generally working in the ship’s boiler room doing the same old things that they have done and adding very little value to companies, employees, Boards, CEO’s etc; instead, they should essentially be helping to steer the ship and guide it forward in its journey. Please don’t let the mantra of:

“it’s always been done this way so why change”

guide you forward in your HR career and your future aspirations which I will come onto later.

I am being harsh, but when we talk about robots I do wonder whether the function has gone into robot mode without the AI piece!

Perception is king, but facts don’t lie - to take this a stage further, there is a general perception about the value that HR brings to most organisations and it’s not a positive one. There’s a great quote in my book as to how Finance see themselves so please check it out. Also, I remember once when I was speaking to a friend, he asked me what I did and of course I said I worked in HR, to which he replied “Ah, Human Remains!”  I set him straight on that quickly, but he thought that it was funny as this was his perception of what we do.

There are numerous other things that need to be addressed and changed, however, let me just leave you with one more which I touched on above; HRDs or CPOs (Chief People Officers) must be more active, influential and present in the board room. Not because that should be the model but because there is a credible and beneficial reason for them being there.  Also, HR and HR professionals needs to take the “victim tee-shirt off” (there’s a great book titled ‘S.U.M.O. by Paul McGee which I would recommend you reading) and start stepping up to the plate to truly demonstrate their worth and why they are there. There is absolute value in HR being in the boardroom and in my opinion HR people being the next CEO, BUT there are multiple changes that need to be addressed which again I touch on in my book e.g. mindset, behaviours, career path, change of the CEO blueprint etc.


It is time that HR woke up and smelt the coffee. If it doesn’t then it’s going to take another 10 years before the profession catches up and by that time the horse would have bolted, and the gate may be firmly shut. HR in the 21st Century absolutely has a place!  There’s a huge amount of value that HRDs and CPOs together with their team can add if only the #HRNorthStar is set correctly and true value-add is released/developed and instead perceived its evidenced. Please ask yourself the questions above and it’s ok to disagree with me, however, just with a growth mindset on, check your answers with your counter-parts and CEO to see if you are right.  Be brave, be bold and above all be the catalyst to change.  Good luck HR and long live HR.

Note: This article is drawn from the book Human Resources Changes the World by Glenn G Jones.