An overview of the tensions and dynamics HR leaders face due to structural and systemic factors.

And it is a systemic problem.

When systems are not functioning, it helps to look at how they were founded.

In every system, the past reverberates through the present and into the future. We can think of this as our DNA.

So, what is Human Resources’ DNA?

National Cash Register Co. (NCR) was founded by two brothers, John and Frank, in 1884. According to HR Magazine (SHRM), the first Personnel Management Department was started by NCR in 1901.

As the labor movement and unions gained strength in the U.S., NCR started its personnel management department as an 🚫 anti-union function. Personnel management was to deal with employee “grievances” and “discharges”, while educating supervisors on the legality of employee strikes.

NCR was an incredibly influential organization. Working at NCR then was considered the equivalent of getting an MBA today. It’s estimated that between 1910 – 1930, almost 20% of ALL❗business executives in the United States were former NCR executives. In 1912, NCR was convicted of being a monopoly and 27 of its executives were sentenced to one year in prison.

Famous executive “alumni” include the founders of IBM and General Motor’s Delco Electronics.

NCR was not just some evil corporation.

The company was also the FIRST to:

💡 Create a sales team training academy

💡 Direct-to-consumer mail marketing

💡 Create customer avatars and sales demonstrations

🌟 NCR was also THE leader in “industrial welfare”. It was considered a “model factory”, which focused on employee safety 🚸 , access to water 🚰 , comfort, bathrooms 🚾 and ventilation. NCR included special provisions to support women 🚺 in the workplace. NCR was considered a true pioneer, the “father of welfare” for employees. (The Welfare Department predated the Personnel Department by almost 10 years).

At some point in time, the Welfare Department and the Personnel Department were merged.

Between NCR’s direct influence (i.e., IBM, GM) and indirect influence (organizational copycats i.e., Ford), NCR’s model was replicated and became THE DNA for organizational structures.

While they got many things right, we are left with one question:

How can Human Resources be both in charge of anti-union activity AND social welfare?

At the bottom of this conundrum, lives the same tension we have today.

One day #HR is expected to be “people police” 🚨 , and the next day “people champion” 🏆 .

HR professionals today are the unfortunate inheritors of his organizational DNA. Split down the middle.

How can we expect them to do two jobs that are at ends with one another?


  • In Part 1, we explore the contradictions in HR's mandate.
  • In Part 2, we explore the tensions between HR and the core business.

Next Up:

  • In Part 4, we explore the underlying root issues using our Functional Human-Systems Method®️.
  • In Part 5, we explore a possible solution to the HR conundrum.