Dear HR…

The Ready
The Ready
Published in
7 min readMay 31, 2023
Original image: Alisha Lochtefeld

We see you.

🫵🏼 Spending more time convincing stakeholders to do what’s right than doing the thing…

💳 Enforcing a “Receipts for anything more than $5” policy while sipping from your “Trust Comes First” company-issued coffee mug…

⚠️ Trying to have an impact — to do the job you were hired to do — while hearing “Let’s just be careful” every time you propose an idea…

We’ve been there. We’ve left there. Now, we’re heading back to the scene of our burnout (a.k.a. the HR function) to evolve this profession into what it was meant to be.

You didn’t get into this business to lead your organization into the future of work in your five spare minutes between meetings. You got into it because you thought humans were cool and deserved better at work.

Hard same. Let’s shake shit up.

HR People Aren’t the Problem

Did we introduce ourselves? 👋, we’re The Ready, a future-of-work consultancy committed to changing how the world works — from business as usual to brave new work. We’ve partnered with hundreds of clients around the globe and helped them work in more people-positive and complexity-conscious ways.

And everywhere we go, we kick it with HR — because us? We’re aligned. We’re all in on working in more human ways that nurture autonomy, transparency, and flexibility — and you are, too. That’s why HR’s current state bums us out. What’s that state look like? Well…

A few years back, we facilitated an HR leadership team trying to clarify their purpose. As inspiration, the CHRO reminded the group of their informal slogan: “Find a way to say yes.” 🤦

HR’s habit to compromise in the name of client satisfaction may feel like delivering value, but being on-call 24/7 doesn’t add up to focusing on the highest-value activities. A more pointed truth: It distracts from strategic priorities and keeps HR in reactive mode.

HR’s inherently cross-functional nature means it becomes a dumping ground for a ton of sort-of-related-but-pretty-dissimilar work. The effort and money invested gets diffused across that cornucopia of randomness in a way that makes ROI hard to see. So, straddling the TPS-laden past and a robot-led future, the present doesn’t feel… great. Yet that’s the tight spot HR’s in — between a rock and a hard place.

You know the depth of your bench and talents. HR already has its fingerprints all over the Operating System (OS) of the organization, and critical tasks — hiring, compensation, training, etc. — sit in your domain. According to Asana’s 2023 “Anatomy of Work Global Index,” 60% of work is spent doing work about work — and not doing, you know, skilled tasks themselves.* HR is uniquely positioned to reengineer how work is done, but when you have to spend time on competing, under-resourced agendas, reengineering high-impact work stalls out before it ever gets started. Rock, meet hard place — again.

HR, Change Thyself

HR’s capacity to invigorate new ways of working is currently held back by a never-ending list of to-dos. Add to that a growing desire from within HR to shift its own status quo. (You really want to make more rules and trust people less?) But that appetite can’t do more than make sad grumbly noises because of how the function’s designed — with a factory-floor mindset that can’t meet the needs of today’s fast-moving systems.

All that 😵‍💫 chalks up to an interesting equation:

Yes, you’re currently in bumper-to-bumper traffic because bureaucracy keeps running into chaos — but what if that position was a superpower? What if you became the adaptive department everyone wants to party with? What if modern work principles and practices flowed from HR like water?

HR, we love you. And… this is bigger than you. Your evolution is the entire organization’s gain. HR often holds or leads transformation for other parts of the organization. Sometimes, that gives off whiffs of “Those who can’t, teach.” But it’s time for HR to model what’s possible rather than put up with poor org design while trying to “fix” everyone else.

If we get that right, HR’s whole reputation shifts. The verdict’s in on what workers want: More autonomy, agency, meaning. This should be the moment people flock to HR. That’s possible when we realize the profession’s future.

Why Here, Why Now

Not only does the future of work need HR’s evolutionary next chapter like yesterday, but the challenges HR regularly faces aren’t about to magically go “Poof!” Organizational changes are only increasing in frequency and complexity. When the world turns — lawsuits, climate disasters, banking collapses — and a company has to respond, HR is there. Unpredictable emergencies messing with an organization’s system-wide functions? Those problems get delivered to your doorstep.

HR is the organization’s first responder. You’re like a CFO during the financial crisis: continually called in to address novel situations (like a once-in-a-generation pandemic, AI, a coming labor shortage) the CEO has never navigated before.* The world isn’t going to stop growing hot potatoes to throw at you — so it’s time to have a function that can swarm those things while keeping the lights on. Not once; every time it happens.

Remember the hiring frenzy you had to manage in the summer of 2020? How about now? When you’re being asked to rationalize that bloat, cut cost, and find new efficiencies? (And don’t forget to avoid any messy blowback, please and thanks.) We just don’t live in a one-time hot potato world.

Trying to solve high-stakes problems without the authority to make a final call won’t deliver the innovative solutions the business requires. But you know what might? Intentionally designing your function to run the way it does in a crisis.

The Future of HR

The future of HR shouldn’t be graded on how few mistakes are made; it should be graded on how the organization flourishes. Success isn’t juggling, compromising, and 🙏ing the urgent quiets down long enough to focus on the important; it’s having the ability to balance both with ease.

Let’s retire the patterns that dominated the last several years — patterns that resulted in waste, handwringing, and endless planning (and replanning) around everything from office closures to disinfectants. Instead, let’s transcend the old ways of working and follow a different model — one that’s experimental, flexible, and helps HR ascend on its own terms.

We’re not talking about nibbling around the edges. We’re talking about breaking shit 🔨 to make way for a new blueprint for wholesale evolution. Because the future of HR means having the know-how to sense what’s coming, steward cross-functional teams that solve sticky problems, automate repetitive jobs, and enable a company’s ongoing adaptation to weather the next perfect storm.

Picture it: What if the next time the Chief Revenue Officer tells his HR Business Partner that sales compensation is out of whack, HR doesn’t draft a plan or hire outside help. Instead, the HR BP charters a temporary, cross-functional team that can solve this problem, and the group uses new ways of meeting, deciding, tooling, and collaborating to create a new comp strategy.

The group operates like a no-joke, go-to-market, product team: testing their best ideas, sometimes in parallel, in contained, safe-to-fail ways. They iterate, they learn, they get feedback from the rest of the organization — and responsibility for stewarding the business as a whole starts looking like a shared public good.

That’s the future of HR ✨

This leap requires courage and conviction. But the only thing harder than breaking up with processes long past their expiration date? Living with the status quo.

TL;DR: We believe in you. You can change how HR works. We’re here to help.


The Ready

The Ready is a future-of-work consultancy committed to changing how the world works — from business as usual to brave new work. We help organizations remove bureaucracy and adapt to the complex world in which we live.

📣 Our just-launched offering, the Future of HR, is designed to help HR and People teams level up their skills, tackle cross-functional challenges in new ways, and respond to inevitable unexpected curveballs with greater ease within a future-ready operating model. Connect with us here to learn more and say hi 👋

Ready to take a first step toward the Future of HR? Complete our capabilities self-assessment here.