Should HR Be Visible or Invisible?

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Author: Rita Trehan | Source: HCI | Published: June 12, 2015

There is a worldwide stigma attached to HR that stays with us despite our best efforts. The negative PR image is that we’re stodgy bureaucrats who exist merely to stand in the way by pushing paperwork instead of progress. As we work as an practice to alleviate this negative stigma, we understand that there are two highly-beneficial ways to break this horrible image: create processes that are seamless where we work in the background, or place ourselves in the role of problem solver, standing in front of the C-suite team to lead from the front.

Which leads us to the big question: should we become invisible or more visible?

I believe the answer is both.

Firstly, I do believe that one of the strongest ways to demonstrate value is to rid ourselves of clunky old processes and procedures that put us in the way of corporate progress. Streamline forms, automate payroll, decrease the effort and maximize the efficiency of talent reviews, raises and promotions, and onboarding. This is where we best remain invisible, where the processes facilitate a faster, more agile company with the capacity to do more. I do believe our process should be absolutely invisible.

But where we must remain visible is leading the charge toward real change. Google’s training on unconscious bias comes to mind, as well as Eileen Fisher’s dedication to embracing sustainability in all aspects of the company. These are capacity-building actions, and HR should absolutely be visible in their suggestion and implementation. But once implemented, again, the processes supporting the results should function with zero impact to organizational progress. If we are ever to overcome this negative image, it’s to be seen as problem solvers, meaning that we are best served remaining visible when solving the problem and invisible in the implementation of its solution.

The best relationships between CEOs and CHROs work in this manner. The CHRO is visible when the CEO expresses and issue or when he or she is presenting a solution. The tasks needed to resolve the issue are decided, and the CEO and CHRO go their separate ways. The CEO rests assured the issue is handled, the CHRO delivers updates if necessary, but otherwise, it most certainly is.

I don’t believe that a seat at the leadership table is best gained by rabblerousing HR leaders shouting for change or wildly gesticulating for attention, nor do I believe that we should silently work behind the scenes like the Wizard of Oz. It is the foundation of my business and my personal mantra that HR functions at peak performance when it is visible when determining how to create capacity for the company, and then confidently silent while creating the solution. I believe this is our pathway to ultimate success and beyond.