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Titles do matter…especially in HR!

For some reason, I have taken up the “title cause” in HR! Not because I believe that titles are the be all and end all, but because I believe one’s title has a major impact on how that person’s role/function is initially perceived. Just to be clear, at the end of the day, it all comes down to how one builds relationships and executes in their role; however, it is only fair that we all start off on equal and fair footing. The worse culprits for providing underwhelming and negative role impacting titles to their people are, are you ready for it…HR Professionals!


Yup, you got it, the very people that conduct job evaluations, define compensation practices, develop and promote employment branding and help improve employee relations are the ones that eat their own! HR Pros are the worst at what they call their own people and often don’t give enough thought as to the impact of the titles they bestow upon their people. Keep in mind, titles don’t cost you anything so why do we “cheap out” on them? Now, I am not talking about calling someone who does administrative support work in HR an HR Manager or anything, but why do we come up with horrible titles that further give our operations clients a reason to believe we don’t or can’t add any value?

You see, if you work in the average HR department, you are probably facing a somewhat uphill battle to have the position respected, valued and appreciated for what it does and for what YOU as an HR Pro can do. Yes, we have come a long was as a profession, but we still have that much further to go. Building off of the theme I wrote about last week and was inspired by based on my colleague Sabrina Baker’s writing, we have to stop asking for permission to do things. So let’s start by not asking for permission about what we call ourselves. I have written about this title thing in HR before here and here; however, I will state it one more time – let’s stop calling ourselves “Business Partners.” No other function refers to itself as a business partner unless they have an inferiority complex. Also, the title of “HR Generalist” has to go. (What do you “generally” do here? Well, I “generally” do HR work…except when I don’t) I firmly believe the entry point for front line HR work should be the title of HR Consultant. Boom! There it is.

What typically happens or what do people think of when your company hires consultants? Subject matter experts? Experienced people in their field? Highly educated? Competent? High priced advice? Does your company usually follow the advice of consultants? (More often than not the answer is yes.) How is that any different then what we as HR Pros do now? We are all internal consultants (except for maybe the high priced part.) But as HR Pros, we, as a group, are highly educated, subject matter experts in our field and we provide expert advice in our respected competency areas. Better yet, we are internal so we know the business better than any external person ever could!

As I indicated in my post last week, if we changed our mindset and acted like we were true consultants, we would HAVE to add value and solve problems; otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business. So, as HR Pros, if we were called Consultants and acted like Consultants, we would have to demonstrate value to our clients and to our department. We need to take on a “billable hours” mindset. We should be prospecting with our internal clients and advising them (and delivering) on ways to find them better people faster, improve their retention rates, develop succession plans for them, find ways to help them keep their best talent and improve their employee relations so they can deliver a better product or service to their customer.

Don’t ask for permission to do this. Start to change your titles and your mindset immediately. Get out there and consult the hell out of your operations clients and drive up those non-billable billable hours! Remember, we don’t generally partner with the business…we CONSULT! (Said in my best Marty Kaan voice.) As always, I welcome your comments and feedback…especially about House of Lies

Image courtesy of geralt/Pixbay.com



Hi, my name is Scott and I work in HR

If I used this line at a dinner party, networking event or at any other social event, the eye rolling would start and I am almost certain that I would be met with a series of passive, “oh, hi’s.” Bottom line, no one would be all that interested in meeting and speaking with me if that was how I approached them. Funny thing, in our everyday jobs in HR, we as HR Pros do this all the time. Perhaps not quite as blatant and awkward as this, but we still use this approach when trying to work with our internal clients. Quite often we are the awkward kid at school who is trying to integrate into social circles.   Instead of identifying ways we can add value to the business, we like to remind our clients what our function is – like it is some sort of security blanket for us. We do this as if HR is some sort of oversight function through which operations must obtain approval before making business decisions…as if. Which begs the question, “Why do we do this?”


I got inspired to write more about this topic based on the thought provoking blog post that my colleague, Sabrina Baker, wrote last week related to her speaking engagement at the California HR conference. Sabrina wrote about Moving from HR Leader to Business Leader.” You can read her post here and as is her custom, she also supplied her slide deck here. You should check them out and give her a follow. The point(s) of hers that really stuck out to me though were the following where she wrote:

“It isn’t enough these days to be an HR leader, we need to be business leaders. We need to understand the business as well as every other leader. We need to know finance, marketing and sales as well as the individuals running those teams. We need to be able to speak and understand the lingo. We need to know how decisions impact the business and how to create people strategies that help achieve the business strategies.

And we need to do it all without asking for permission.”

As HR Pros, we should all read that last line again. “…we need to do it all without asking for permission.” So here is the thought that I want to piggyback on to Sabrina’s writing. Let’s stop introducing ourselves as the girl or guy who works in HR. No one cares. No one is impressed by that statement. Why don’t we start introducing ourselves as a problem solver? We need to stop thinking of ourselves as an internal department and think of ourselves as internal consultants. If we were consultants, we would HAVE to add value and solve problems; otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business. As a department, we tend to get a bit lazy and assume that because we are a department, people HAVE to use us…wrong!

So, as consultants and problem solvers, let’s start introducing ourselves as such. To Sabrina’s point, we have to stop asking for permission to do this and just go ahead and DO IT. How do you think your role will be received at work the next time you try one of these lines: (exaggeration and simplicity done for dramatic impact purposes)

“Hi, my name is Jane/John and I can help solve your resource issues by_____”

“I would like to propose a solution to your succession challenge”

“I have an idea on how to reduce your labour costs by introducing a contingent workforce plan”

“I have identified a low cost solution on how we can easily implement a mentoring program in your department to help with your skills shortage.”

Any one of these is a great opening line at a work party, I mean, as a work conversation. Your internal clients will be much more receptive if they see you as a solutions provider and not some bureaucratic department. Here is the beauty of all this, you don’t need to ask for permission to do this! (Thanks Sabrina!) Be a leader, go forward and just do it! You won’t get in trouble. Really…you won’t. It’s ok. Take the first step. Try introducing yourself differently. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Maialisa/Pixabay.com

The Most Important Trait for an HR Pro to Possess

As a profession, I find we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what makes up a good HR Pro. There seems to be a general mindset within our profession that there is some sort of perfect makeup that when it aligns, creates a super HR Pro. I am pretty sure this does not exist. The reality is that I think certain traits, characteristics and abilities (when combined) work well for HR Pros in some situations and not in others. In fact, I firmly believe that the success of HR Pros is often driven by their own personal “toolbox” and how that fits with the work environment and culture they are a part of.

IntegrityIn my career, I have had the privilege of working for and with a variety of great HR Pros, many of whom have had great sustained HR career success. They are all different and unique in their own way in terms of their personalities, knowledge, skills and abilities. They are also definitely unique individuals in terms of their own personal toolbox of personal characteristics, beliefs and values and ultimately I think that is what makes the conversation of what makes a great HR Pro so fascinating. It is that the conversation must encompass and consider individual values and beliefs within the context of different work environment – so there is no one size fits all in terms of what makes an HR Pro “good.”

So here is the thing, while this magical combination of things (knowledge, skills, values, etc.) will vary from HR Pro to HR Pro and their own success will vary from company to company and work environment to work environment, I do believe that there is one trait that all highly successful HR Pros must (and do) possess. This trait is independent of what school you went to, your upbringing and what work influences have shaped you. Regardless of anything else, great HR Pros possess a high degree of personal integrity.

I find, personally, I reflect on my own integrity a lot. This occurs based on the various and complex situations we as HR Pros are faced with in our jobs. As organizational stewards, we must always be the conscious of the companies we work for. We must hold ourselves and others to a degree of integrity in our dealings with each other, our employees and other businesses. As HR Pros, we always talk about wanting to be respected and to elevate the standing of our profession. Well, here is one major way to do it – possess and portray integrity. Hold ourselves, our leadership teams, our employees and the organizations we work for to a (higher) standard of integrity. Make sure that we maintain our own personal integrity in all that we do and ensure that it is portrayed in the advice and counsel we give our leaders and employees.

Remember, integrity is not circumstance dependent. We can’t have integrity in some situations but “flex” it in others. Integrity is a 24/7, 365 days a year thing – let’s make sure we hold ourselves and each other accountable. Who is with me?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My Advice to New HR Grads

For most universities and colleges, spring graduation season has now come and gone. Hopefully many of the recent grads have been able to find work that is linked to their field of study. Over the past few months, I had the privilege of being able to speak with a few upcoming HR grads as they prepared to enter the workforce. A lot of them were experiencing a bit of angst about getting their first HR job and just as importantly, they wanted to know what they needed to “really” do to be a good HR “business partner.”

GraduateI probed a bit to find out what their understanding of the term is and was as anytime someone, especially a junior HR Pro, uses the words “business partner” the hair on the back of my neck stands up a bit. You see, I believe as a profession, HR people have been adding silly labels and heaping on ridiculous amounts of self-deprecation on our profession over the past 5+ years. You know what mean, people in HR always saying that, “everyone in HR needs to be strategic in their role.” “HR people all need to be sitting at the table.” (*groan*) and most importantly, everyone has to be an “HR Business Partner.” There are no more HR Generalists, HR Coordinators or HR Consultants (unless you are independent). We have got it drilled into our profession that you immediately have to be a “business partner” as in that is your title vs. something that you do as part of your role.

Depending on what and who you read, this definition of HR business partner has a variety of meanings. Some HR folks make it out to be the ultimate catch all HR role/title – but mostly it means you are playing some incredible strategic role in your company whereby you are developing revolutionary people strategies and programs that result in leading edge turnover and engagement scores. Simply put, if you aren’t a “business partner” than you ain’t much. I have previously blogged about this topic before so I won’t go on an additional rant; however, I think bloggers like Laurie Ruettimann (please check out her blog) provide a really good perspective on what it means to do good HR, which then means you are adding value. Simply put, be ethical, be transparent, make sure people get treated with respect, make sure they get paid fairly, represent your company honestly and understand the environment your company operates in so you can properly advise. (i.e. labour laws, human rights, etc.)

All of those things are the basic tenants of good HR. In other words, if you do that and your people are getting paid on time you are keeping the proverbial trains running on time and that is how you are adding value. Not everyone gets to be strategic and drive the vision for the company for the next 20 years. However, good HR work (like I mentioned) adds A LOT of value, more so because, for some reason, many in our profession overlook this work that they do as being valuable. So why do we feel the need to label ourselves as business partners? Has anyone heard of a “Marketing Business Partner?” An “I.T. Business Partner?” What about a “Finance Business Partner.” Believe it or not, if you Google those terms, those titles do exist, but not near to the extent of HR Business Partner. Additionally, these groups also don’t seem so fixated on the term and presenting themselves as such as compared to what HR is doing to itself.

Here is the thing, anyone that provides enabling support to their company has to be a business partner in some capacity. So new HR grads, here is the best (free) advice you are going to get:

  • Focus on doing the things I mentioned earlier in this post so that you can keep the trains running on time. If you do this, please take solace in the fact that you are doing GOOD HR WORK! We need people like you in all organizations that are focused on this.
  • Don’t get caught up in the labels that exist that current HR Pros have been creating and placing on their own kind. Don’t worry about the title and status of “business partner.” If ever in doubt, refer to the bullet number one.
  • If you want to add value and be seen as a true partner, than the first thing you do is to volunteer for a project in another department. Don’t worry if it isn’t “HR related” on its face. Ultimately, it is all HR related (that is a professional secret you must keep to yourself). Immerse yourself with another department. Help marketing out with an upcoming campaign. Volunteer to assist with their social media strategies. Lead and support Engineering’s technical briefing sessions.  Develop the change management plan for I.T. as they rollout a new operating system. It doesn’t matter, the best thing you can do for your new career is attach yourself to a non-HR project.

Bottom line, by simply stepping outside of the HR Dept. (and your comfort zone) and immersing yourself into the challenges and problems of another department, you will be adding value. You will gain the respect of your operations clients. You will, in fact, be a true business partner…just don’t call yourself that, let your operations clients call you that, if they feel so inclined. Remember, you are an HR Professional. Be proud of that and let’s all agree on one thing as HR Pros – that is, to stop making all of this so hard for our profession. As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

My Advice to new HR Pros

I recently had an exchange of emails with one of the readers of The Armchair HR Manager who also happens to be a LinkedIn connection of mine. She wrote to me about a recent post on my blog that had triggered some serious career introspection on her part. She is a young, up and coming, HR professional who is still in her first HR job since graduating from school. She was experiencing a lot of different emotions about her career, specifically about what she was doing (in her job/career) and who she was doing it for. I was fortunate enough to be able to provide her with a bit of advice about expectations and evaluating current and future positions, which I think set her in the right frame of mind as she began to consider her next career move.

The entire exchange, I thought, was fantastic as:

  1. I always enjoy conversing with my readership, LinkedIn connections and any HR Professionals.
  2. It provided me inspiration for this post as I really got to thinking about what it was like when I was first starting out in my HR career and you get to that point when you begin to wonder about making a move.
  3. It inspired me to think of what advice I could give new HR pros and what I would have wanted to know when I first started out.

AdviceSo I got to thinking, in the spirit of helping out the new(er), up and coming HR Pros, what advice could I give them that I would have wanted 17 years ago? First of all, I think it is reasonable to expect that after a year or so in your first HR role, it is normal to start to feel the need to move on or want a change – this could either be from the company you work for, although that may not always be the case, or the actual role you are in.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need/should move on, but the feeling is normal and it is cause for some professional and personal evaluation. Remember, it never hurts to dip a toe in the water to see what is out there. As well, just because you interview for another position, doesn’t mean you have to or are going to take it.

A lot of recent HR grads usually get their first role in some sort of HR Coordinator type role, or they cut their teeth in recruiting. For those in coordinator roles, they often quickly outgrow the administrative nature of these roles. If you are an HR Coordinator in a larger HR department, this type of role probably allowed you to get oriented on how HR is done in the ‘real’ world vs. what you learned in school/case studies. In your first HR role, you learned about corporate culture, bad managers and transactional HR work. It is now normal to want to spread your wings and try something new as your confidence has increased a lot over a year and you are probably feeling underutilized in your current position – these are all normal feelings at this stage in your career.

For those in recruiting roles, it is pretty normal to want to make a shift into an HR Generalist type of role early on in your career. HR grads that start out in recruiting learn pretty quickly if they want to make a career out of being in the talent acquisition world or if they want to broaden into more of a generalist role dealing with talent management, payroll/benefits, employee relations, etc. There is nothing wrong with staying in one area or the other, it is just pretty normal to want to move from recruiting into HR within the first year or so of it being in your first job after school.

It is also normal after a year or two out of school, and in your first HR role, to want to move on from your current organization. Often, after graduating, you are so happy just to have a job, things like the company you work for and/or the person you work for are irrelevant to you. You need a job and want experience, so where and who you work for fall down the list of importance.

After 18 months or so on the job, you can get a good feel for those elements and start to incorporate them into your next move. You are now able to better define what you want in your next move in terms of role, company, culture, etc. Keep in mind, it is hard to replace getting some solid HR experience on your resume, so you have to strike the balance in this area (of role vs. company). Remember, most organizations out there aren’t Google’s or Microsoft’s in terms of what they offer!

Working in ‘difficult’ organizations and/or dealing with difficult situations early on in your career is a great resume builder. Having had exposure to things like terminations, layoffs and re-structuring, policy development and performance management in the early stages of your career are great foundational experiences. You can port them from job to job and industry to industry. In the early, formative years of your HR career, it is all about building up your HR toolkit and gaining exposure to as many areas of HR as you can. Once the toolkit has built up, you can be more selective about who hires you to utilize this toolkit!

The last piece of advice I would give new(er) HR Pros, and that I wish I could have given myself 17 years ago, was to make sure you are always working on your professional brand and building your network(s). Your professional brand requires a lot of work and it is of the utmost value to you. How you network, develop yourself and interact with your HR colleagues and operations clients is all part of your professional brand. Now with the substantial role and influence that social media has in our lives, your online presence makes up a huge part of your professional brand.

For the up and coming HR pros, you have an incredible opportunity to build your brand through tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Keep in mind, everything you do (personal and professional) formulates part of your brand. There is no division any more between the two – personal IS professional and vice versa. Always be mindful of how you represent yourself – your brand is your most valuable commodity. It is my hope that some of this resonates with the new(er) HR Pros out there and that it serves as some high level guidance for you. I welcome and other questions you may have and as always I welcome any of your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What I learned by “teaching” HR Pros

I recently conducted a recruiting workshop for my provincial HR association. I was asked to do a ½ day session on the fundamentals of recruiting. I was caught off guard a bit by the topic as I thought that it was a bit too basic and bland and I was worried no one would want to attend! I was assured that there was a demand for this topic, based on feedback they had received, so I agreed to do it. I have to say, I was really glad that I did because I learned an awful lot about where things stand with recruiting and HR professionals and I learned a ton about our current generation of HR talent.

Before I share my thoughts, to put things in perspective, my workshop was about how to effectively work with hiring managers, walk away with a clear picture of what the recruiter was required to hire (vis-à-vis using various tips, tools and techniques), how to effectively craft job advertisements, source, effectively interview, manage the candidate funnel and close candidates.

BrainThe audience was primarily junior to intermediate level HR folks that were either full time recruiters or had elements of recruiting as part of their HR role. There were also a few more experienced HR folks present as well, so overall a nice mix. By the end of workshop, the following things became apparent to me as a microcosm of what is working and not working for recruiting/HR:

1. Our up and coming generation of HR practitioners is really dialed in. They are not afraid of the challenges in front of them and they have some really great insights on what it takes to be a great recruiter. They are keen to learn and to be better and better. They want to “deliver” and are very open to doing things differently if it means they can add greater value in their role and to their company.

2. We aren’t doing a great job of providing developmental opportunities for our more junior HR folks. If more experienced HR folks (I am including myself here) want to continue to elevate the status of our profession, we need to be providing opportunities for our less experienced HR peers to learn, grow, develop and shine as they are the future of our profession.

3. Organizations have their recruiting staff focused on the wrong things. My impression is that it is all about volume. So many of the people I chatted with afterwards told me about how the focus (and reward) is on the number of hires made, volume targets achieved/quarter, etc. Now, they feel they have a renewed sense of purpose to focus on quality of hire, new hire retention, etc.

4. To expand on #3, we struggle as a profession to share – both data and best practices. Collectively, if we shared more about how we measure our successes, get operational buy-in, and become better at our craft, we would all “win.” I am hoping that the “open source” thinking that Gen Y’ers (I hate that label but I am using it simply for context) have continues to spread throughout our profession. With the rapid increase in the use of social media among HR pros, we are able to do this more and more. There is a desire to help each other as HR professionals and stop looking at each other as “competitors.”

5. For me personally, I am really stoked about the up and coming HR talent I saw and heard from. Again, I was blown away by their knowledge and critical thinking ability. They truly do “get it” as it pertains to adding value in their role. They know that they need to show the ROI of their efforts and be aligned with the businesses they support. And for those that are 100% focused on the recruiting side, they do get it that they are in a sales role, not HR! (but are part of the HR family!). The future of our profession has never looked brighter!

Overall for me, to be perfectly selfish, it was a great learning experience. I learned a lot about my peers and enjoyed the dialogue and being challenged on what I was presenting. They weren’t afraid to ask questions and have me look at things differently. I hope that they continue to take that approach back to the office with them and challenge the thinking they are presented with there!

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Top 3 Skills for the HR Professional

Because many of us are so involved with coaching, counseling and advising others we rarely take enough time for self-reflection. For many of us HR Pros, especially the generalists, we are often involved with working with our operations partners on advising on training and development courses for their employees. The gap, which I have found over the years, is that HR professionals rarely take enough to identify their own development needs so that they can focus on enhancing their skill sets. Additionally, I am often asked by Jr. Practitioners and students, as to what the key skills are that HR folks should have.

Human Resources DevelopmentThe challenge is that many of us are so focused on keeping our “HR knowledge” up to speed we sometimes lose site of the core general business skills that would be critical to our success. Often the first thing that comes to mind for HR folks is to make sure their knowledge of relevant legislation and employment law stays up to date. While that is important, I don’t so much look at that as a skill set per se as I do a knowledge base. So what are the key areas that HR pros should be focusing on? Based on my experience, and in my opinion, here are the most important skills that should be developed and maintained by HR Professionals:

1. Negotiating skills – having the ability to be a strong negotiator helps in so many facets of the HR world. For those involved with labour relations and collective agreements this is a no brainer! But think about the broader application of this skill for a minute. For recruiters, it pretty much encapsulates at least 50% of the job description. It starts with negotiating with a hiring manager on job requisition timelines and requirements and then continues on with candidate interaction. Recruiters negotiate starting salaries, signing bonuses, benefit waiting periods, start dates, etc. Really, a huge chunk of their time is spent negotiating! For other HR professionals, because a huge part of what we do is project based, we negotiate on timelines/deadlines, the need for (additional) resources, etc. That is why this skill set has to be developed to be a solid HR pro.

2. Project Management skills – with the ever increasing move by organizations to either outsource admin related functions and/or carve out in-house “centres of excellence”, the work of the business level HR pro has become very much project driven. The projects can run the gamut from developing a mentorship program, implementing a new performance management system or selecting and implementing a new HRIS. Either way, the ability to plan, organize, lead and manage a project so that it is on time, on budget and on target is a critical skill set for HR professionals. So order to enhance this skill set, either take a course in project management or find a way to job shadow a strong project manager. Learn about GANTT charts, PERT, CPM, RACI charts, etc. Be able to estimate time and costs during your project planning stages. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is all the new language of HR!

3. Presentation/Public speaking skills – developing and/or enhancing these skills is critical. More and more HR pros are being asked to present to management teams, boards of directors or even industry groups on various matters. Whether it is reporting on workforce trends that are impacting your business, updating the team on your current project (see #2) or perhaps you are speaking to colleges, universities or trade associations on preparing them to enter the workforce, the ability to present/speak in public is critical to your success. These skills are also valuable if you are ever asked to speak at conferences, trade shows, government events, etc. HR pros are being asked for their input and vision on a greater number of topics every year and the ability to craft a persuasive/informative presentation and articulate your key message(s) to a group of people is a critical skill set that HR pros should have.

I realize this is a very short list but I think that if you were to focus on developing/improving even just one of these skills over the next year, it would put you ahead of many of your peers. These are skills that are lacking in the repertoire of many HR Professionals and we all can use more development (focus) in these areas. Let’s all work together as an HR community in continuing to elevate our skills and our profession. What have I missed? Is there anything else that should be added to the list? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of basketman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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