HR has come a long way from the days of being called “Personnel,” but in some ways the old stigmas hold strong.
Some of the blame rests with the HR profession itself. Now, I know many in my field would strenuously disagree, and they’re certainly entitled to their opinions. However, I stand by my assertion. If you count my jobs as a teen (and I do), I’ve been in the workplace more than 30 years, and my interactions with HR have been mostly underwhelming. At least in the circles where I’ve traveled, HR still struggles with demonstrating core knowledge, thinking strategically, and gaining trust.
On the other hand, HR is routinely and unfairly held accountable for things no HR department can control, like poor performance management, lack of transparency (especially within senior management), inequitable wages, workplace bullying, and managerial favoritism. News flash folks – HR operates within the same system as everyone else and is bound by the same rules. Put another way, HR can’t change the company culture. If the culture sucks, HR is as much a victim as anyone.
And yet, I always come back to this inviolable truth: companies need HR. They really, really do. There’s a lot of people stuff that requires attending to in the world of work, and individuals suited for and trained in HR are the best folks to attend to it, hands down. Every time I enter a new company and assume the function previously handled by a CFO, COO, or other operating/finance expert, I discover a fine mess – no matter the talents of that CFO, COO, or other operating/finance expert. I realize this is my experience, but I’ll bet $10 that somebody reading this article can relate.
HR is a defined skill set and not everyone can do it. We generally recognize that with other professions (marketing, finance, communications, business development, sales, and so on), but not so with HR. Instead, we hold off on hiring an HR professional until things have reached a boiling point. That’s a mistake. HR is so much more than a necessary evil. Allow me to elucidate:
- HR is the people persons. I tend to cringe whenever I hear that someone wants to get into HR because he/she is a “people person,” because, well, it sounds so darn Pollyannaish! Still, a concern for people is a necessary prerequisite to good HR. Cold, analytical strategy alone won’t do. HR can’t afford to be cynical. Practical, yes. Cynical, no. Good HR thrives on hope and the possibility of positive change. You have to have some faith in people to keep that going. Great HR professionals do.
- HR is the people experts. Good HR practitioners spend lots of time studying humans on the micro and macro levels, because a knowledge of what motivates, energizes, and infuriates humans has real implications for how and how well the work gets done.
- HR thinks differently, and companies need that. A former boss (a CFO) was sharing with me his and the President’s plan for a reorganization. I listened and then told him where the personnel pitfalls hid – how This One would resent the change for that reason and how That One would resist the change for this reason and what messages would have to be communicated to manage the transition well. When I asked him why he hadn’t thought to consult me sooner, he told me that it never occurred to him that this decision was a human resources issue. Good grief, man! If you need people to make something happen, it’s an HR issue. HR people get that and we have the people knowledge to see it through.
- Good HR people have the patience required of capable risk managers. Running a business requires adherence to many tedious rules and regulations that most visionaries simply consider a big yawn. However, ignoring the rules is definitely not the way to go. Enter HR, compliance masters extraordinaire.
I could go on and on (seriously, I could), but suffice it to say that progressive employers get that good HR is integral to sustainable business growth. Now that’s far from a necessary evil!
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