Posts Tagged ‘HR business partner’

Who loves ‘ya? (Does anyone like HR?)

Quoting from the 70’s show Kojak, whose character would frequently belt out a humorous “who loves ‘ya, baby?” greeting, I’ve decided to label my first post as such and tackle the issue of HR’s image – head on.

A few years ago, at a regional SHRM conference I attended, the main speaker for the plenary session was Robert Gandossy, one of the editors of the highly recommended book HR for the 21st Century. Gandossy started his presentation by recalling an occasion when he went golfing with a friend and another player who happened to be the CEO of a company his friend was consulting for. This was his first time meeting this CEO. Not soon had the game begun, the conversation turned to the obligatory topic of work and the CEO asked, “so Robert, what do you do?” Gandossy, a senior consultant at Hewitt, responded that he was in the HR field. The CEO’s response was a succinct, but disappointed, “oh,” after which he proceeded to maintain minimum contact with Gandossy for the rest of the game.

The above story elicited a roaring laughter from the audience, all “in the HR field” themselves. Gandossy told that story to illustrate that something needed to change in the way HR was being executed. He was of course, also promoting a book that was full of essays from various experts in the area and with a title that hinted of “things to come.”

This story stayed with me. There are a number of ways to interpret the CEO’s response. Certainly, for some, HR can become a target for jokes. Who can forget the Evil HR Director from the cartoon Dilbert, a parody of an incompetent and sadistic director of human resources?  For some reason, I’ve never felt victim of the image some have of HR. If anything however, I’ve been frustrated by the lack of general knowledge over what HR is and what it can do, but I’ve never felt my work did not add value.

What to do?

Granted, not everyone is fit to be in HR. Just like not every doctor has compassionate bedside manners, there are folks in the HR field whose temperament may not be suitable for the job. As in any profession, having wrong people in the wrong place contributes greatly to the image people associate with the field.  It is no mistake that many MBA degrees offer a concentration in HR. After all, business acumen is a key skill an HR professional must possess and analytical skills are important to gauge the impact of our proposed interventions and programs. Other traits needed to be in HR can be similar to the ones needed in other roles, such as being able to deal with ambiguity, relationship building, consultative skills, political savvy, etc. One trait that must be stressed however is the ability and desire to care about others. There are happy moments in our roles, but there are also plenty of difficult and even sad moments. This ability to care enables us to perform our roles with professionalism while upholding the dignity of others.  If this is missing from your toolbox, perhaps it’s time to rethink your HR career.

I’m not certain that we need to change what we do. After all, we’re always evolving as a function, always looking for new and creative ways to manage talent, always knowledgeable in the latest coaching rave or technique, and just as importantly, our intent is on being a service to others. What some HR leaders and professionals may need to do is change how they do what they do.  It is not acceptable to be at the sidelines of what happens in the business. Rather, it is absolutely necessary to embed ourselves in the business, know how it makes money, how it can lose money, what its growth strategies are, and gain an intimate knowledge of the professional profile of many of its players so we can position ourselves to help them and the business succeed. In other words, be a business partner.

How does HR get a seat at the table? The boardroom table, that is.

Pick up any book or publication directed at HR and you often find variations of “the table” analogy with encouraging advice on how to get there. The fact is that HR people have been in the boardroom for many years. They’ve been there in the way certain companies have managed not the function, but the people they select for the top HR roles and the set of expectations they bestow upon them.  As the function whose main focus is people strategies, why would any important business discussion be conducted without HR in the room, and yes, at the table? Even Jack Welch, arguably one of the most successful general managers of our time, boasts in his book, Jack: Straight from the gut, about how much the people decisions and processes he put in place gave GE a winning edge. And he credits his HR officer as his right hand in this strategic endeavor.  Like any other major function, if HR has metrics tied to business success, it has a seat at the table.

Before HR was HR, leaders (generally men at the time) from other departments were selected to head what was then, the personnel department. They were charged with hiring people, training them, paying them, and with dealing with ways to comply with the growing amount of labor laws. In many companies, the Head of Personnel was an important and well-respected function.  This all happened before HR was put under other departments such as Finance and others in some companies, and where the head of HR did not report directly to the CEO, an archaic practice still observed in some spheres. Some successful companies today have retained the tradition of moving talented individuals, generally of high-potential caliber, into an HR “stint” in an effort to round their leadership skills and general management track.  Other companies, who hire and retain highly talented individuals in all functions, routinely include their HR employees in general talent reviews and discuss their capacity, potential, and interest to grow their careers in other areas of the organization.  Since the HR staff is a resource of the organization just like all other employees, this practice should be the norm and not the exception.

For those whose heart and passion remain in an area where the focus is on molding people strategies to help achieve business goals, HR cannot be seen as a dead end. This only detracts talented people from entering the field. HR leaders need to understand this risk and take progressive action to turn any less-than-positive image into one of professional respect and credibility. One good way to start is by asking if we have top-notch, best-in-class talent in our teams. It is imperative that we ask ourselves this about our own talent before we advice others on theirs.

Are we alone…?

Now, does HR suffer alone in the image arena? Hardly. At any given time, the image of lawyers, mortgage brokers, and to many, that of the euphemistic “management” can be highly compromised and so are the image of countless other professions. They all have their respective value. But for a function tasked with helping others be successful in the workplace, HR leaders should realize how improving the function’s reputation can be a worthwhile endeavor to challenge ourselves with. This, if we are to continue to be trusted with the role of impacting the careers of others and if we are to attract the best talent into the field.

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Posted in The HR Brand on Sunday, January 31st, 2010 | No Comments »

Similar to the way organizations consult with their HR departments, "HR for HR" is a term used in some organizations as the area where internal HR staff may turn to when they need advice, counsel, or mentoring. is a site dedicated to further the understanding of HR's unique consultative approach, strategic focus, and people-oriented business alignment.