Blaming HR for your problems is like blaming your doctor when you get sick

Some people believe HR is broken. I disagree. Saying it is broken is a misclassification and ultimately reduces it to a cog in a machine. But HR is not a cog or lever. Culture is often referred to as the relative health of an organization. HR serves a purpose similar to your doctor and, ultimately, culture health and employee engagement are management and leadership responsibilities with HR as counsel and guide. Depending on your needs different HR folks can help you more than others...provided you don’t ignore them.

HR Generalist as Family Practitioner or Nurses

HR Generalists are on the front line and know a breadth of stuff about organizational health, treating basic problems; They can even prescribe interventions to help bring things back to relative normal. Some may focus on more traditional methods and approaches and some might have a more alternative approach, but ultimately their goal is to return you to health when things go wrong. Their job is to help you get unsick or at least return you to the relative health you enjoyed before you called them. Often, they are not improvement experts. And while they might certainly know enough to point you in the right direction, they aren’t experts in any one area. They are the most common player and many have learned their craft through some school and experience but not a ton of advanced degrees or specialty training.

Consultants as Specialists

HR Consultants usually focus on certain areas of your business or certain types of interventions. These are usually employed for a very specific purpose. Whether it is fixing a very specific symptom, or providing a high level audit, these folks are deep in their crafts. They know the stuff around the edges of their areas of expertise (enough to know how they all interrelate anyway) and they are best when they are focused on solving something specific. They often have advanced certificates or degrees in their areas of expertise. Generalists, similar to Family Practitioners, refer to Consultants (specialists) when they need a deeper dive or very specific effort towards a solution. Remember, Generalists are treating all sorts of daily issues, focusing on one patient or one problem for days or months is not their thing, generalists are too busy. But like specialists, Consultants can become narrow in how they solve problems. Put another way, if you don’t want surgery, don’t ask a surgeon for her opinion on how to fix something. If you don’t want to adjust compensation, don’t ask a compensation consultant how to fix engagement.

Organizational Development Practitioners as Fitness Coaches

Organizational development is probably the most proactive approach to organizational health, and often, the most under-appreciated. Primarily, while they can help when you get sick, they’d much rather prevent it. From proper nutrition to general exercise, your OD folks are about healthy habits and fostering even better health. They, too, often have additional certifications or education in their realm. These folks enjoy organizational assessments so they can find something to improve upon. They are your improvement engines. They live by the philosophy that being healthy is different than simply not being sick. And because getting healthy probably won’t happen in a week, their value can often be overlooked. But when you do the math, investing in organizational health can save your company millions.

Recruiters and HRMs as Nutritionists/Dietitians

These are the folks guiding what goes into your organization or who being promoted to leadership roles. They can provide plans, recommend the right ingredients, and optimize your team for the performance you seek. They are well skilled at finding good stuff if you give them the right information and provide feedback when you taste it. If an interview doesn’t go well, let them know more about your tastes. If you are suffering after effects of a bad hire, let them know it wasn’t a good fit. If you see people as fuel that propels your organization faster, stronger, and farther - give them information, resources, and time to find you some high octane people. If you see people as something that just keeps you fully staffed and you ask them to just put butts in seats, expect junk food and the results that come from it. Yeah, it fills you up for a bit but usually it makes you feel worse (unnecessary problems) and leaves you feeling empty (unnecessary attrition.)

Executive Coaches as Psychologists

Let’s face it. We have problems. Some of which can’t be solved by medicine or training. Some of it is about underlying beliefs and potential insecurities. Executive coaches are a blend between OD and Consultants. Their goal is to improve health like the OD practitioners but they are laser focused on individuals and specific issues to resolve. Again, this group often has additional certifications or education. Like psychologists, executive coaches are are used far less than they could be and perhaps for the same reason. Stigma. It takes a great amount of self-awareness and accountability to talk with either a psychologist or an executive coach. Coaches are instrumental in helping you get out of your own way, realizing that you are not alone, AND that your actions impact others even when you might not realize it.

Ignore your health professionals at your own peril

Being sick happens. There are bad things out there that can poison your organizational health unintentionally. You can bring someone (or something) into your organization that causes harm, makes you sick, and sometimes you do things that break bones or tear ligaments. Accidents happen and organizational issues will always happen. AND if you ignore your doctor, the information they give you, and the recommendations they make, you are much more likely to get sick, hurt yourself, or do something that causes serious and sometimes irreparable harm...and could elongate or marginalize any recovery from those issues.


It is easy to blame someone for things that go wrong. I know people who invent imaginary friends so they have someone to blame. But no one forces junk food into your body; no one keeps you on the couch when you know you should exercise; and no one is responsible for the health of your organization like you are. HR can counsel, prescribe, and treat, but if you keep coming back with the same issues (high attrition, conflict issues, low engagement, performance issues, etc.) because you make choices that ignore their recommendations, your HR isn’t broken...you just aren’t making organizational health a priority.