Dropping Some Science - the Merit Matrix...
Ann Bares of Compensation Force Joins the Workforce Lineup...

A World Without HR - Who Cares?

Admit it - you've had one of those days before where you wondered if you were making any impact at all.  Easy to get caught up in transactions, and like any else who's "living the vida-corporate", it's easy to wonder if anyone would miss you if you went away.  Or if your function went away...

What about it, Sparky?  Would anyone miss you?  If the HR function at your company went away, what would theyEmptyoffice_3 miss about not having you around?  That's what the Happy Employee recently asked.  Take a look and ponder..

From the Happy Employee:

"Without any HR professionals around the economy wouldn't fall apart, but in the first weeks I assume there would be problems with salary payments and nobody would know where to find the templates to issue employment contracts to new hires. Of course, it wouldn't take long for finance to step in with payroll and legal would take care of contracts.

And here's the challenge
The worldwide fraternity of senior executives meets 6 months after the HR rapture to discuss why they miss HR. What would they say?"

The analysis provided is straight up money.  You think Finance couldn't figure out a way to get the transactions done?  If anything payroll related was your answer, don't pass go.  Walk straight to the outsourcing center.

My take?  I can't get in the minds of the people I work for, but I think they would point to three areas - maybe not in the first day, or the first week.  But when week #2 rolled around, I think they would say they miss the competent HR team in the following areas:

-Recruiting - "Moving through hundreds of candidates, or doing a passive search when we don't is a lot harder than I thought.  What am I supposed to say when I do call someone for the first time?  Let's just hire some headhunters - the unbudgeted 6 figures is easier than doing it ourselves..."

-Employee Relations - "I wish we still had the HR team to block and tackle this EEOC charge.  Man, is that messy.  Did we have these when they were here?  Seems like the responses and the adjustments we had to make just kind of happened.

-Coaching - "I wish we still had the HR team so we could bounce things off them in a confidential manner.  I don't have anyone I can talk to about my team and how to handle different situations.  Who am I supposed to talk to?  Chuck?  He's a walking harassment claim..."

Those are my first takes to what would be said.  What are yours?


Ann Bares


I throw an additional "take" into your collection, based on life in my narrow little niche of employee compensation. I run into a lot of instances, mostly in small to mid size companies, where compensation - and sometimes the entire HR function - is relegated to the Finance staff.

You're correct in that Finance does get the "transactions" done, and done in a timely and accurate manner. The missing link I see, however, is that employee pay becomes just that: a financial transaction. No more, no less. Gone is any consideration of the motivational and behavioral impact of doing it this way or that. Gone, also, often, are the efforts to involve employees in reward plan design, to take their opinions into consideration, and to ensure their deep understanding of how the pay plan(s) actually work. Why would these steps be necessary if it's only a financial transaction.

With all due respect to Financial professionals (I'm married to one, after all): for people who live and breathe ROI, they often miss the key link of working to get a return - in terms of hearts and minds, attention and behaviors - from the pay dollars they so carefully expend.

My two cents worth. Great post - I look forward to seeing what your other readers have to say!

Meg Bear

Sounds to me like you're suggesting a Talent Management strategy is critical to the business and might be missed. To that I say "rock on"!


The Happy Employee

Hi Kris. Thanks for accepting the challenge and participating!

And I love the picture above. It's shows exactly what I had in mind ;-)

Michael Haberman, SPHR

Kris- my business is based on a "world without HR" as I deal with small businesses that most often don't have any HR support at all. And the reason I have a business is that they can't do without HR. Businesses without HR have unhappy employees, unsure managers, turnover, and lawsuits out the wazoo. Government regulations don't go away. Poor managerial decision making doesn't go away. Mistreatment and discrimination doesn't go away. So I think in a large company the absence would be quickly missed.


Without HR, there wouldn't be anyone to consider impact on employees and productivity during major (or minor) change initiatives. New phone system? Let's just hook the new phones up and leave a piece of paper with instructions on their desks. Change in benefits coverage (assuming they haven't already screwed that up with no HR)? People can read. Point them to a website, they'll be fine. New CEO? People will get used to him/her eventually. And on-boarding that new CEO? A quick tour of the supply room should take care of that, right?



Hi...given all of the above, has anyone tried to quantify the dollar value or one strong internal OD professional?


I work in a manufacturing plant with a union. The Plant Manager is always dragging my ear into his office to talk about this employee or that issue and what can we do about it. How can they get away with this nonsense? Why are we not able to do this?

I believe if the HR function ceased here that it would be felt immediately. Who is going to deal with this grievance? What was the intent of that contract statement? Who is going to handle that union problem? What are they plotting now? How do I handle that smart-alec shop steward? What have we done in this situation in the past?

I think labor unions could go wild without the HR presence. They have significant and often unknown power (to management). Talk about walking a fine line between employee relations and production.

Bart, poland

With no hr profs around they would probably hire individuals with tendencies to dream and scheme, establish numerous salary systems depending on managers' opinion on the subject, which would bring chaos in a long run. They would have no idea how to act in a counter-offer situation. Hovewer getting rid of Performance appraisals might be useful.

Dawn Martin

I agree with most everything that's been said, with the exception of the performance appraisals. Whatever form they take, some kind of effective appraisal system is necessary, if not for the documentation benefits, at least for the basic communication and dialog that should be taking place on a regular basis (but often doesn't). Just as often than not, employees will only get this kind of feedback once per year, if that. Or worse, unguided or misguided feedback can be more damaging than none in some cases too. A quality and consistent performance management system, led by a good HR team, in my opinion is indispensible.


I'm always fascinated by the question of doing away with HR, particularly in large companies. The notion that the single most important, expensive and complex asset of a business can be managed passively or self-managed is, frankly, bizzare. Oddly, we rarely hear about outsourcing the management of other assets such as finance, real estate or technology. Oh, I forgot, those things are IMPORTANT.


I am an HR Manager for Home Depot - for the next two weeks. On April 2 HD announced the HR Managers will be eliminated and our responsibilities will be assumed by an hourly associate who schedules coverage. They have 16 hours a week to take care of what I couldn't accomplish in 16 hour days.

The average store has 150-200 associates and turn-over exceeding 50-60% in most locations. There is no HRIS platform, no handbook, no offer letters and SOPs are just "suggested" operating procedures.

2250 HR Managers will be RIF'd so your world without HR scenario will be played out in the color ORANGE in the months ahead. Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the show. Should prove interesting but as they say at HD, "it is what it is."


I once worked in a company before it had an HR Department. We (managers & Supervisors) did our own recruiting, promoting, ER, training, coaching, etc. We helped each other. The development of those working for me was a major responsibility. Finance paid us; legal reminded us of the laws regarding employees. When HR was it created it was a big help; we became much more consistent. But HR grew and became a hinderance to business. I like HR as a partner...not a master.

John Bellanca

I agree with the analysis from The Happy Employee, “Of course, it wouldn't take long for finance to step in with payroll and legal would take care of contracts.” Line management would step up, too. But at year end there would most likely be a cost analysis of the outrageous legal fees, excessive overtime, and other indirect costs and someone would eventually say, “Why don’t we pay some bureaucrat a low wage to handle all this crap?” And, voila! HR would be reborn!

The comments to this entry are closed.