HR: Nothing Personal

Last Updated Aug 27, 2009 9:29 AM EDT

"The more I know about you as a person, the less effective I am at my job in HR," says Punk Rock HR in this pithy little post.

Initially, I read this as a deliberately provocative statement -- isn't it essential that an HR professional be a "people person" above all? But reading the comments and thinking about it a bit further, it began to make more sense.

A line manager may need to have good rapport with the people they work with, but the in HR, it may be beneficial to be at one remove, able to offer objectivity and oversight across the whole of the company.

"HR professionals are employee advocates, charged with making sure the employer-employee relationship is one of reciprocal value," according to the authors of "HR Transformation: Building Human Resources from the Outside In.
On the other hand, if HR professionals are to coach people and develop them for the future -- as the book puts it, "listening crefully, advising wisely and offering direct and candid observations" -- isn't this made easier by knowing more about the individual? With so much automation in HR -- in from satisfaction surveying to talent management -- isn't there some real value in the personalised element that a real human being brings to the discipline?

I understand why you'd want to take the personal out of HR -- particularly if you're having to deliver bad news about layoffs or you're the director of a large and dispersed workforce. Being trusted is more important than being liked, as Jo Owen explains here. But if HR is too de-personalised, it risks coming in for the kind of drubbing it got last year on both sides of the Atlantic.

What do you think?