Where are they heading, what are they doing - whatever. Having served in almost all roles in the Human Resources discipline during my professional career (Manager through Corporate VP), I must report the obvious - the traditional role has disappeared. HR is no longer a good professional goal for anyone, and the last twenty years demonstrate that verity. They have been abused, abased and axed!
Let’s be candid, prior to the 1960’s, the emphasis was on controlling paperwork and the administrative aspects of business – employment, payroll, performance reviews and the like. Then, the far reaching laws of the land (in the United States) were enacted, such as EEO and Affirmative Action. Companies did not have the time or interest to understand these laws, so a new cadre of managers was created to insure compliance and protect the organization.
The 1980’s and beyond sure looked good for Human Resources professionals for a number of years, and then technology, downsizing, globalization and corporate greed began to decimate the discipline. Let’s outsource everything we can, cut costs. So, there went document management, benefits, payroll, training and the like. Labor Relations was in place, but, of course, union activity and growth has slowed dramatically – they no longer have the hammer. What was left? Not much!
HR has always been a lonely profession, as it is based upon trust and fair-handed, consistent response (which realistically is not how business always works). One can be torn. From a senior management point of view, you are a barrier/damper to what they want to do. From the employee point of view, you are the messenger of bad news. From your peer group, they wonder whether concerns can be shared without judgment or recourse. This is not a winning hand. And, when action needs to be taken with an employee, no one really wants to do that, so HR is always the bad guy, always - walking that tightrope.
Even as a former practitioner, I do not blame the forces of change – HR invited it. We were often in the clouds with seemingly worthy programs and concepts, without costing out or projecting value. We did not understand the financials. We stayed in our offices and managed from our desks, rather than be visible on the floor. The discipline became very female heavy, and, I apologize in advance to my former colleagues, much softer, during a time where hard decisions had to be made. Lastly, we did not sell ourselves very well – you need to toot that horn and be recognized.
Columnist Bernard Marr of Linkedin.com had some interesting insights, replacing the institutional HR with the following: “Put two teams in place: a people analytics’ team and a people support team.
The role of the people support team is, as the title suggests, supporting all employees in the organization – from the front line to the senior leadership team. The tasks of this team include: helping employees with their development; ensuring staff engagement; identifying issues with morale and culture and generally looking after the well-being of the people in the business.
The role of the people analytics team is to look at people more scientifically and support the company with insights and analytics. The kind of questions this team would help to answer includes: What are our talent gaps? What makes a good employee in our company and how do we best recruit them? Which employees have got the highest potential? How can we predict staff turnover? Etc.”
Mr. Marr makes his case based upon value. I would throw in another term – ombudsman. Business is not clean, and you need that filter to protect everyone from abuses which are always there, lingering. HR needs to embrace the challenges, become more agile, focused and financially adept with the numbers. The defining edge for business moving forward will be their employees (call it resources, capital, talent, or just staff), and the challenges will be how to recruit them, develop them, retain them and reward them. Sounds familiar, but the stage is so much larger, as are the stakes.
John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog 'A Guy Walks In'. LRA is a leading research and consulting company in the emerging discipline of Customer Experience Management (CEM). We work with our clients to help them design and deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, and company growth and profitability. We have built a range of quality assurance, mystery shopping, research, training and consulting solutions to help them do so.
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