I should probably start with a disclaimer. If you are an HR professional with thin-skin, move on from this post immediately. DO NOT CONTINUE READING! In fact, you may not want to read any of the words I write from now on. That’s ok, I won’t be hurt.
If there is a concept I have long loathed-it’s the concept that HR must fight, scratch and claw its way to the mythical “seat-at-the-table” as if it’s a closed society only open to Sales, Operations, Engineering and Finance. This idea is not only wrong but sadly, one of the main contributors to this tale is us. Yes, we in HR help drive this belief because of our own insecurities and self-deprivation. I have practiced HR for nearly (gulp) 23 years and I have never met a group of professionals so touchy when it comes to their place on the team…and why?
I am not the first nor will I be the last to spotlight how strategic HR is to the business. It’s not a profound statement to say Human Capital is as critical to the P&L of any business as product development or business development. If none of these statements are new, then why do we have a chip on our shoulders regarding our place within our businesses? No other function that I know of worries so much about gaining that coveted seat nor do they feel it isn’t a natural right.
To be fair, we didn’t get here alone. The practice of Human Resources has been evolving for some time. In the 1900’s we called HR the “personnel” department and the lack of technology limited the role to “paper-pusher” status. Fair or not, we were limited by our technological reach as well as the less-than-mature understanding of people matters and the cognitive impact the workforce plays in the market. Heck we aren’t even portrayed positively on television. Remember “Toby” from the hit-series “The Office“? Not only was he disliked by virtually everyone in the office but he was even detested by “Michael Scott” who was the Office Leader. Poor Toby….
HR has evolved to be true business partners. We use big data analytics, behavioral based hiring predictive analysis and other incredibly poignant modeling tools aimed at increasing productivity. Some of the best C-Suite Executives know how important human resources is to their bottom-line. Jack Welsh is often quoted as saying his top HR executive was one of most important business leaders in all of General Electric. So really, we have no reason for an inferiority complex.
Another contributing factor is the way in which we present ourselves. How many times have you heard people say almost defensively “Oh well, I fell into HR” as if they mean to say “I hate where I wound up”? The fact is, very few people know what they want to be at birth and stay in that field forever. It’s rare. Most people find themselves in a profession due to a myriad of events dictated by chance, interest and skill that had little do with their original plans. I rarely hear anyone say they fell into Finance or they fell into Information Technology.
I challenge my fellow HR colleagues to stop feeding into this perception by first recognizing you already have a seat-at-the-table. Don’t ask for one. Simply sit down and lead. The study and practice of maximizing the performance of human beings is one of the most complex professions in the world. Human beings are incredibly lucid and vary based on experience, age, nationality and a host of other socio-economical and geopolitical influences yet in some ways we are all the same. Business leaders struggle with leading and communicating with people from various backgrounds and find it difficult understanding what motivates them. Until our businesses are run exclusively from computers and artificial intelligence, a team of dedicated professionals who focus on people will always be essential to the viability of business.
I also ask you all in HR to take pride in your role and to stop denigrating how you arrived. Human Resources is not a department that houses those people who failed in other functions nor is it the beacon for wandering souls looking for purpose. I foresee our function increasing the number of specialized people wanting to practice their craft in HR. Legal and IT talent are already gravitating towards human resources as a destination. I, for one, will no longer defend our profession because we don’t need defending. We’ve arrived. HR is starting a new era. Let’s make sure Toby was an old joke that no longer applies.