Seth Goddin had an entry last month railing against administrative and non-strategic HR functions. His point, in essence, was this:
"What if you started acting like the VP of Talent? Understanding that talent is hard to find and not obvious to manage. The VP of Talent would have to reorganize the department and do things differently all day long (small example: talent shouldn't have to fill out reams of forms and argue with the insurance company... talent is too busy for that... talent has people to help with that.)"
This is exactly how high achievers in business think about things. They know where the value lies and are RUTHLESS about palming off anything else that may fall in their job description and distract them from the high-value/high visibility projects.
Why doesn't HR do this? Well, partly because they rarely have the confidence and ruthlessness to behave like this, and partly because administration, while individually a low value-add part of the function, is vital to the cultural "hygeine" of a company.
So, how to reconcile this? Take a look at an enlightened finance function.
The CFO deals with the board and senior execs, flagging risks to the business operations and managing them. She/he is also responsible for the hygene issues of lodging accounts, regulatory returns, paying bills and collecting payments, but this is not where the business sees her/him earning his bread and butter.
So, finance gets broken into operational and strategic functions. Operations functions are managed by someone who is focused on deadlines, efficiency, accuracy, and customer service. A Finance Manager or Financial Controller.
Strategic Finance is headed up by a Commercial Manager or a Head of Forecasting and Planning who switches the lights on for business management so they can see whats coming up ahead and can adjust their business strategy accordingly.
HR should absolutely do the same. A Head of Talent plans, forecasts and creates strategies to fulfill the future talent needs of the business - essentially ensuring the best people with the right skills are making it into the business in significant numbers to achieve the business mission and then managing the internal movement of that talent to where it is best employed.
A Head of HR Operations looks after the administrative, tactical and risk avoidance functions like IR, contracts, the HR business partners, and L&D.
Then the HR Director is free to switch the headlights on for management at board or exec level with future risks, opportunities and strategies.
If you're a CEO, high level exec or HR Director - what do you think?