So I got into the function by choice (many people fall into it). It was a very conscious choice that involved a lot of introspection into how it was that I really wanted to impact the world. 1
I knew before getting started that the HR function is often marginalized within organizations, and is also generally perceived (often correctly) as not “getting” the business.
I understood that the nature of HR work often makes it difficult to learn the business even if one wants to (due to being isolated from it), and that the stigma of being in the department can often make implementing any sort of real change difficult for even the most capable talent.
This of course begs the question:
If one wants to do something that matters, why would he/she go into HR?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but my reasons are simple:
Talent scales up.
I fundamentally believe that an organization’s success is driven by the top 10-20% of its workforce. 2
A small percentage of the employee population in most organizations – 5% or so – sets the strategy that determines if a business will be successful or not. Then you have 10-15% of the workforce that drives the business via either creating or selling the product(s).
The best companies are those that can attract, retain, and develop those people, and there are a number of roles HR plays in setting the strategy here.
I love compensation. It’s the science behind what incentivizes people to work.
To this point, even though the unemployment rate is around 8%, most companies report having difficulty finding top talent to do their critical jobs.
The overwhelming majority of great talent is actively employed, and great talent that isn’t (mostly) doesn’t stay that way for long.
How should companies attract these people?
I think about this question all the time. Always have. Always will.
Talent (Identification, Acquisition, Retention and Development)
I have passion around identifying, recruiting, retaining, and developing top talent (and I’m intrigued by the role that social media will play in companies’ external recruitment strategies going forward 3).
Top talent often has to be found.
I believe that developing really good people internally (that are capable of one day stepping into senior leadership positions) is something that should happen starting at the entry level. And this doesn’t happen without a strong HR department.
Great organizations have strong succession plans for their most critical jobs (the best ones have benches for non-critical roles as well), and there is no department better positioned to take on the challenge of building great benches than HR.
Engaging employees in a strategy doesn’t mean dictating, it means collaborating and communicating.
I know (and I very rarely use that word) that finding ways to engage talent is the foundational bedrock upon which everything I’ve said above about organizational success rests.
If 5% of an employee population develops the company strategy, the rest of the population is by definition charged with implementing it.
As such, everyone in an organization should to a certain extent understand the business, and be either emotionally or financially (preferably both) invested in its success.
HR is at the forefront of defining the strategy to getting to this point, particularly in remote, non-corporate locations where a lot of the business that really drives P&L is done.
Big Data / Analytics
I love big data, and I love analyzing it to jointly improve business and employee outcomes. There are lots of career tracks where one can work in this space (including data science), but I believe HR often plays (and should continue to play) a principal role in managing and analyzing company data.
As more and more tools become available here (and we learn how to use them as a function) this space will become a tremendous opportunity to add value.
With that said, there are also some things that I don’t like about HR (namely):
If your HR department spends too much time managing stuff like this then it’s probably doing it wrong.
I hate the administrative, transactional work that makes up a big part of the job in HR. It’s often not value added, and even when it is, making the completion of said work a major role of the function is bad for its long term viability.
Administrative tasks are becoming more and more automated every year as technology improves (and companies realize they can lower headcount and human capital costs by investing in said technology).
I’ve talked before about the importance of getting into the weeds (and sometimes that involves grunt work and administrative task), but it’s never a good idea to get siloed there. Unfortunately this is the primary role played by the HR function in many companies, and it isn’t sustainable. We need to evolve (becoming more strategic) or we won’t exist as a standalone department in 20 years (some argue that this may be for the best).
Labor/Employee Relations, Benefits, and Employment Law
As for the rest, I could take or leave the labor and employment law sides of HR (it’s important stuff, but I don’t have much energy around it quite yet), and benefits is such a highly specialized field that it’s in many ways separate from the rest of the function. 4
Ultimately, however, while I *do* have some concerns about the direction in which HR is headed long term, I believe that the work we do is valuable to the business (when done right).
HR really does matter, and it’s always going to be around. I’m not sure of the form it will take going forward (to this point I focus on the analytics, and err on the side of learning technical skills and concepts that add value), but I think I have a pretty good handle on what matters about it, what I like about it, and how I want to strategically position myself to continue to do those things throughout my career.
Why do you work in your field of choice? Was it a conscious choice? Do you want to continue doing what you do or change disciplines?
As always, please share your thoughts below.
If you have questions about something you’ve read here (or simply want to connect) you can reach me at any of the following addresses:
SomethingDifferentHR@gmail.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org