Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Is HR Leading Change in Education?

By Emily Douglas-McNab — November 29, 2011 2 min read
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Brad Power, a researcher at the Lean Enterprise Institute, recently wrote a blog entry on the Harvard Business Review website asking, “Why Doesn’t HR Lead Change?” He explains that it is difficult to find HR people “who are active in helping their organization improve the way it works.”

According to Power, HR departments that attempt to lead change typically face three major barriers: politics; a perception of HR as a transactional, rather than strategic body; and “being inbred,” meaning that HR people hire HR people and don’t always understand all the facets of the organization. While I agree that these barriers are prevalent in the business world, HR groups in schools face a slightly different set of hurdles.

Many school districts lack adequate HR departments (and some don’t have them at all). While many school districts understand the value of human resources, they simply do not have the funds to maintain a highly effective HR group. I know of many rural districts that only operate with a superintendent, treasurer, and office staff member. If we are truly going to make the support and growth of talent the most important thing we do, we have to, walk the walk. This will not be easy... but necessary. Education leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders should come together to discuss innovative ways to invest what resources are available in helping school districts maximize their ability to select and develop talent.

When we do have HR teams, we don’t always empower them. I have seen many educational organizations with HR departments full of smart, experienced, strategic-thinking people who are not allowed to actor speak without approval. Empowerment is the best form of flattery, and it gets results. It is hard to hold people accountable for their actions when they can’t act.

Not all HR people are created equally. Similar to lawyers, doctors, teachers, and engineers, HR people come in all shapes, sizes, and with various experiences and educational backgrounds. There are good, great, mediocre, and bad HR people. Typically the “bad” ones end up costing organizations a significant amount of money and time. They can also cause more damage to an organization’s brand and culture than I can put into words.

HR’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone. I once had a high-ranking central office employee tell me that, “anyone can be an HR person...anyone can buy an HR book and read it.” I (obviously) strongly disagree. What if we applied this mentality to education? Not just anybody from off the street can read a book and then walk into a school and be an outstanding teacher. Teaching is a profession. One that takes knowledge, practice, patience, talent, courage, and heart. One that I highly respect. This is similar to being a great HR person. Working in HR takes knowledge, practice, patience, talent, courage, and heart. It’s a profession and its experts are ones I greatly respect.

Understanding the hurdles faced by HR change leaders in education is the first step toward letting HR be a part of educational-improvement efforts in schools. I would love to hear from you! Does your organization construct or destruct hurdles for HR?

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