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HR is a boy named Sue

I’m sure you’ve heard of Johnny Cash.  Like me the chances are you’re not a huge country & western fan but I  do love the story telling that comes across in his songs – it’s always a bit of magic.  A great example of this is “A Boy Named Sue“.

If you don’t know the tale, it’s about a boy who is named “Sue” by his father before he abandons the family.  Perhaps take a moment to enjoy the storytelling in this clip…

HR is a boy named Sue

So if you know the song or paid attention to the clip, the reason the father named his son “Sue” was to help him become tough as there’d be no father figure to support the son.  In a world that is “rough“, giving him that name meant he’d “have to get tough or die” and “it’s the name that helped to make you strong“.

A bit like the story, HR comes in for a regular beating for good and bad reasons.  The name “HR” can become a burden at times.

It is what it is.  Will you choose to become strong or die?


8 thoughts on “HR is a boy named Sue

  1. Why is it that HR conjures up such negative connotations? Yes there are good and bad HR practices and professionals out there but I am actually proud to say “I work in HR”. My father has always refused to admit he works in HR – adamant that he consults in “OD and Leadership”…errr aren’t these core to HR? Even worse are those who say I’m a business person first, HR second – surely this is a given for any good “HR” person? I say let’s stay strong and wear the tag with pride.


    Posted by Suzie Noble | November 4, 2012, 7:14 PM
    • Thanks for your comments Suzie! Being strong and wearing the tag with pride feels like the kind of mindset that could build influence & credibility.

      There’s something (perhaps tribal?) in this connection with being a business person first… I agree that it should be a given for any good “HR” person – how often is that actually the case though? Perhaps more importantly, by not being a business person do you harm the reputation of “HR”?


      Posted by David Goddin | November 5, 2012, 11:32 AM
  2. As long as HR stands for Human Resources, we perpetuate the mental model that people are resources to be used by organizations like photocopier toner. In my experience, HR exists to support a flawed “command-and-control” system -protect the employer, protect the system that sustains the employer by association.


    Posted by Sparky | November 5, 2012, 12:31 AM
    • Thanks “Sparky”! There’s a whole other stream of discussion here about who do you serve – it’s not just an HR issue. My own take is that in the organisational context the whole organisation needs to be served. The challenge is ensuring that the whole organisation is healthy, ethical and works well with the systems & stakeholders it interacts with. HR is often the easy target…. so do you think HR is any worse than say Finance or Operations in flawed organisations?

      In terms of HR standing for Human Resources. As with the song, are HR going to choose to be constrained by the name or rise above (or despite) it and be the Resourceful Humans they already are… that’s the challenge!


      Posted by David Goddin | November 5, 2012, 11:40 AM
  3. In my opinion, HR does still have a long walk to do in the public and the private organizations. As for my experience in the last 15 years of working HR in many worldwide organizations – Top management still needs to have a much more clear focus on value creating HR activities. HR is not widely accepted as a nessecary department as Finance and it is much easier to close it down, when times get tough in a tough competetive market.

    Many businesses focuses only on shirt term HR as employment law and regulations and recruitment and 360 degree surveys, but lacks completely on the individualistic approach to grow the organization, as the green house mind set.

    Building “Customer retention”( low staff turn over) into a strategic HR policy, will be one of the key elements in a future progressive HR platform, when the lack of competence arises.


    Posted by Lars Schak | November 5, 2012, 8:43 AM
    • Thanks for adding here Lars. There’s a lot of diverse organisations, operating models and good/bad practices out there. Overall though, it’s interesting how little grief or reputational harm say the Finance function gets compared to say HR.

      For me there’s something here about how we deal with the intangible… You can’t approach human relations and their interaction with the organisational system in the same way you can with those tangible finances.

      Isn’t it curious how the more operational functions like payroll don’t tend to get much criticism? Isn’t it interesting how OD has emerged over recent years and generally seems to attract much less criticism than HR does?

      Operational functions require quality of control, management and process. Those less tangible, advisory functions also require expertise but perhaps more so great relationship management skills, systems awareness and quality of thinking. That’s where value creating HR activities come from in my opinion.

      I believe most people in HR can work in this space if they choose to… if they don’t then my contention is that they’ll suffer the consequence. Thoughts?


      Posted by David Goddin | November 5, 2012, 11:57 AM
  4. I don’t believe in God but if I did, he’d probably be called Johnny Cash. The chances are I’m not like you and I do like country music – and that’s something I’m happy to wear with pride. Click the link and enjoy a fantastic slice of Dave Dudley country cheese and tell me it doesn’t put a smile on your face 🙂


    Posted by Doug Shaw | November 5, 2012, 1:08 PM
    • Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of country – I’m just not an aficionado! Dave Dudley was a new one on me but welcomed. I suppose the name “country music” has come to be seen as a bit old fashioned – perhaps even the name can be a burden at times. It’s what you make of it though isn’t it!


      Posted by David Goddin | November 5, 2012, 1:23 PM


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