The HR Profession

by Sharlyn Lauby on October 26, 2009

There’s been some ongoing discussion here, here, here (and most recently here and here) about the human resources profession.  In fact, there’s been so much discussion lately, I can barely keep up with it.  If I missed a link to your post…my apologies.  All of the convo is thought provoking and definitely worth checking out (especially the comments.)

I’ve written my fair share about the profession.  In fact, my very first post on this blog was about the perception of HR.

[WARNING: Rant Ahead]

But, I think we need to draw a distinction between the people in the profession and the profession itself.  Every profession has rock stars and crappy performers.  Every.  Single.  One.  No exceptions.  That doesn’t mean a particular profession is dead or dying.  Nor does it mean the profession needs to reinvent itself.  It does mean we need to hold those people who are doing a crappy job accountable.  (Don’t be surprised to see a part two of this post in the near future…dealing with the non-performers.)

Professions change and evolve all the time because the nature of business changes.  When Knowledge Management was introduced as a business concept, someone in the company had to own it.  That involved some department changing their responsibilities within the organization.  Same now goes for social media.  Departments are evolving to incorporate this powerful business tool into their profession.  As these business shifts occur, we want to remember the key elements to successfully dealing with change: embracing the change, educating and training to deal with the change, and adapting to the new normal.

So, that being said about professions and change in general, let’s talk specifically about the human resources profession…

Tactical things like department size, centralized or decentralized functions, generalists or specialists are all immaterial in a discussion about the profession.  The first question we should be asking is – what should HR be responsible for?  Once you know that, then you can debate department structure, individual roles and responsibilities, etc.

Here’s my two-cents…human resources is the marketing department for internal clients.  If you look at the definition of marketing (as defined by the American Marketing Association), it says:  “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

So, what should HR be responsible for?  Those activities and processes that have and create value for employees and prospective employees.

As much as it pains me to say it, HR has responsibility for company picnics and reconciling insurance premiums … and probably always will.  It’s just part of the job.  But those tasks are tactical and shouldn’t consume all of our time.  We should be using our voices and spending the majority of our time discussing the real issues that keep our CEO and COO up at night like “Are our revenue producers planning to stay with the company?” and “Who are our future leaders?”  These are areas that have real significance and value to our businesses – and the people in them.

I’m by no means saying human resources is perfect…because it’s not (nor is any other department).  But, I’d like to see the conversation about the profession focus on the future of work, which is what human resources should be all about.

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