HR and the Wizard of Oz: An Analogy

HR is often portrayed as weak when in reality they are strong, smart, caring and courageous.
HR is often portrayed as weak when in reality they are strong, smart, caring and courageous.

I was flipping channels last night when I happened upon the Wizard of Oz. Not the one of the newer versions, the Judy Garland version. I happened to catch it just as she meets the Scarecrow and soon after the Tin Man. I had to end my viewing at that time but I thought that the main characters in the story are a perfect analogy for Human Resources. Let me explain.

The Scarecrow

The Scarecrow was convinced he had no brain. He was going to Oz to see if he could get one. HR is often seen in many companies, cartoons, and the popular press as having no brain. Many of us in HR buy into what is being said about us and we also think we are not smart enough, that is, we have no brain.

The Tin Man

The Tin Man’s deficiency was that he had no heart. HR is often accused of having no heart. We don’t care enough about employees. I read an article the other day on bullying in which the author advised the readers to not go to HR with their problems because HR doesn’t care, they are just there for management.

The Cowardly Lion

The Cowardly Lion is a self-professed coward. HR is often accused of being cowardly in the way it interacts with both employees and managers. Indeed HR does get paralyzed many times by the complexity of the laws and situations we have to deal with and given the consequences that may come about from our actions we can be timid in the actions we take in the name of caution.


Dorothy is the lost child just looking for her way home. HR is often accused of not knowing what direction it is supposed to be going in.

The story

For those of you that know the story, our quartet is heading to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz in order to get what they feel they lack. They find however, the Wizard to be a mean taskmaster unwilling to help them at first, but then assents if they accomplish an almost impossible task, bringing back the broomstick of the Wicked Witch.
They go on the quest and find the Wicked Witch in her castle, after she has captured Dorothy and her dog Toto. In the task of freeing Dorothy our major players find they possess the very traits they felt they lacked. The Scarecrow is smart and hatches the plan, the Tin Man is driven by his feelings for Dorothy, and the Cowardly Lion is courageous. (Spoiler Alert!) Dorothy is freed after melting the Wicked Witch in an attempt to douse the fire on the Scarecrow. They claim the broomstick and take it back to the Wizard in order to claim their much desired objects and traits. In the process they discover the Wizard is not a wizard rather he is a Carnival huckster, but he points out to them they actually had what they desired all along. Even Dorothy had the method of her return home on her feet.

The Lesson for HR

The lesson for HR is that while we may doubt we are not smart enough, or caring enough, or brave enough we are in fact all those things. HR is a complicated part of business that business people often screw up. It takes a smart person to know and deal with the myriad of regulations that are present in the world of employment. HR does have a brain
Most HR people are caring people, typically it is the reason they got into the profession. The oft answer to why you want to do HR is “I enjoy working with people.” Balancing the needs of the people with the needs of the business and the requirements of the law often make HR appear to be uncaring, But HR does have a heart.
Most HR people are more courageous than they are given credit for being. Balancing the wants and desires of numerous stakeholders, some who have authority over the livelihood of the HR person, is tough. It takes courage to say to a manager “we cannot do that” or “You are threatening the company by that decision.” It takes courage to face an angry employee who has exhibited erratic or threatening behavior and get them to calm down. I had to face down a crazy girlfriend threatening her employee boyfriend once in my career. With the prospect of violence these days being in HR takes courage.
Often in HR we seek help because of our self-doubts and that is not a bad thing. Just remember however, that like Dorothy we often have our own answers and should trust our own judgment.

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