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The HR identity crisis

Those of us in HR have an identity crisis. There, I said it. I think admitting it is the first step. Seriously though, everywhere you read, go, hear, etc. all you hear about is that HR needs to be more strategic. HR needs to add value. HR needs to have a seat at the table. HR has to be a “business partner.” Oh my god – it is enough to make my head hurt. The more HR professionals I speak with, the more I believe we are truly in a crisis situation with our professional identities. Well, maybe “crisis” is a strong word; let’s just say we are in a precarious situation.

We have to keep in mind that there a couple of distinct groups in the HR profession. There are those HR Pros that are part of larger corporate teams – i.e. upwards of 15-20 HR staff in a given HR department. Then there are the HR “departments” of one or two individuals. Both groups have similar challenges with their professional identity, yet both have some different ones. The HR profession has been making a successful move, in larger groups, to establish “centres of excellence” (COE’s) and shared services groups. Essentially, transactional items like payroll and benefits administration have either been outsourced or established as part of a leaner, shared services group. Likewise, many corporations have also made the move to shift recruiting out of HR and make it its own stand-alone function – again, leaner and meaner. The end result is that now HR is supposed to have all this time to be “strategic” and move forward with all kinds of strategic HR projects that will allow our companies to be the next Google.

600px-Hello_my_name_is_sticker_svgFor smaller companies and/or HR departments with only one or two people, there is nothing to move away or outsource. These smaller departments have to do it all – process payroll, administer benefits, recruit/hire, onboard, etc. So are they any less strategic than their peers in other companies that don’t have to do these transactional or seemingly trivial items? I say seemingly because it is us (HR) as a profession that uses these labels to diminish the work that we do – not our operations clients.

The funny thing is, if you ask the managers and employees of your company what they feel is the most important thing that you do, I bet they could care less about your strategic HR project. They want to get paid on time and accurately and they want to make sure they get their performance review and pay increase on time. If you can make that happen, I bet they feel you are being pretty darn strategic!

Seriously though, my point is this. HR pros have to stop diminishing the work that they do. The main thing is that you need to make sure you always apply a forward thinking (strategic) approach to your HR practice as a whole. That is, if you are applying a continuous improvement mindset to your practice (i.e. figuring out ways to save the company money, improve a process, free up company resources, etc.) than you are being strategic. If you are coaching managers to become better leaders, or if you are working diligently with your leadership team to ensure your performance system is helping to effectively engage employees in the achievement and reward of meeting their goals, than you are being strategic. If you are keeping abreast of the latest changes in employment law and occupational health and safety legislation, thereby ensuring your company has the necessary programs, practices, policies, etc. in place in order to be compliant, than you are being strategic. Finally, if you are doing things like keeping on top of social media changes and coming up with a plan on how to leverage SoMe in your recruiting practices and making sure your LinkedIn company page is active and relevant and providing your company with an active talent pipeline, than you are being strategic.

So HR Pros, my message to you is this. Give yourselves a break. For many of you, what you are doing now IS strategic. This profession of ours is a journey, not a destination. Make sure you aren’t being the policy police – that is most definitely NOT strategic. However, if you are applying a business lens to everything you do, that is, you are making sure your HR practice aligns with business goals, than you are well on your way to being strategic. If what you are doing is helping to find qualified people, reduce turnover, reduce absenteeism or is essentially solving some sort of problem your business is facing – than you are being strategic. Now, go get yourself a coffee, you deserve it!

What about you? Do you think HR is too hard on itself with this whole “strategic” identity crisis? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org


5 Responses

  1. Wow. What a fresh look on strategic HR. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Scott. Thank you for putting in words, things I have been wishing I could! I’ve saved this post for future reference. We all wish we could be more directly involved in the strategy of our companies – sometimes so much that we overlook and undervalue the roles we already play in making our teams and our company successful.

  2. Thanks Dena – glad you enjoyed it. There is a distinct line between being involved in the strategy of our companies (usually reserved for CHRO, VP HR types) and being strategic in our roles. I am suggesting that a lot of what we do is in fact not only adding value, but is forward thinking. All those things we do, as you said, that make our teams and companies successful. HR needs to give HR a break! I appreciate your comments and taking the time to read the post.

  3. […] HR Pros, we often get so caught up in justifying our existence and being a “strategic business partner” that we forget to do what makes us truly valuable in our roles – understand our people. […]

  4. […] Either way, when done right, HR brings tons of value to an organization and is a worthy profession. I blogged about this subject, about 18 months ago, when I referred to it as the HR Identity Crisis. My intent was to get HR folks to change their mindset a bit about how they view themselves and the […]

  5. […] and HR Leader is to continue to try and elevate not only the status of our profession, but also to try and guide and provide some perspective to our upcoming HR Pros. Part of the mission of The Armchair HR Manager is to dispel some of the […]

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