Very often I get people seeking career counsel on how to move into HR as a profession; fresh school leavers, mid-career fellows and sometimes, early senior-level people. The aspiration is always clear, “I think HR is for me and I want to know what it takes to move into the profession.” On another note, every time I get the opportunity to speak to HR people on issues related to self-development, I would ask 2 simple questions:
“How many HR practicing people did we have the year before now?” and, “How many people do we have today, one year later?”
The truth is, I do not have the answer but what I seek to draw out is clear; How attractive HR profession is to new entrants and why?
The one clear indication from this ‘guess’ exercise is that HR attracts a large number of entrants continuously. The reason for this is often based on unfounded assumptions. The understanding of what HR is and what it takes to be in HR is mostly in dissonance with the truth. If there is one profession that is misunderstood, it is HR! The perception of HR as a profession is as varied as its stakeholders. Unfortunately, most of the perspectives are not only erroneous and misleading, but they are also fundamentally detrimental to the overall value that HR offers.
To identify a counterfeit, you need to understand what the original looks like. To debunk the myths around HR as a profession, it is important to understand what the very essence of the Human Resources function is. HR function exists to create and maximize synergies between an organization and its people. This includes identifying best fits, honing talent and maximizing what both parties have to offer through intelligently created contexts. Anything outside of this is perspiration!
Below are some of the interesting ways HR has been wrongly understood by its various stakeholders.
1. HR is not a “Real” Business Function.
This is perhaps the biggest of them all. This notion has been greatly served even by HR folks themselves. If HR is not the most important part of an organization, what is? Several research works show that organizations that pay beyond lip-service attention to HR as a critical business partner, report much greater returns than the others. This becomes even more damaging when HR professionals adopt this erroneous position themselves because it directly impacts on their goals and aspirations for the business.
2. “Anyone can do HR.”
No! Not anyone can do HR well. Amongst so many other unique competencies required of HR professionals, only intelligent people will succeed as HR professionals. “Intelligence” here is defined by relativity to context. HR is not that profession that you read the principles and just apply! Hardly would you see 2 human issues happening in the same way. Even if they do, the contexts are always different. When HR understands the philosophies and makes the right connections to the actual context, then that is intelligent! Furthermore, HR carries a lot of technicalities which when properly applied make things so seamless that it comes across like nothing much is happening. This goes beyond good administration to strong connectivity to business direction and the ability to think in future tenses.
3. “I want to be in HR because I love people.”
Everyone needs to work well with people to succeed in teams! In the past, the personnel function tended to primarily deal more with the people and so the expectation generally, therefore, was that an HR professional must “love” people. HR’s primary service is to the business and in taking care of the business, also takes care of the people as an integral part of the business. Therefore like all other functions, HR should be people centric, however it must go beyond being people focused to helping the business achieve its ambitions and goals for sustainability.
4. “HR Makes the Decisions”
HR is a midwife of corporate performance. HR’s efforts must be directed at helping the line managers to realize performance through their people. The outcome should be that line management is enabled to ‘own’ their people because HR does not own the people. Line management does! This means HR enables the Line to make the decisions, from hiring to promotion and exits. Very often, the Line Manager is happy to have the promotion discussion but not willing to say “You are fired”.
5. “HR is partial”
In some cases, HR is considered by management as being primarily sold to employees’ desires regardless of corporate realities. In other cases, employees believe that HR has only the best interests of the company at heart. If HR prioritizes and focuses on corporate direction, this dilemma will naturally resolve and the conversation will quickly change from what the people want or what the leadership wants to what the business future needs.
6. “HR is All about creating and enforcing Policies and Processes”
HR does require employee compliance to make significant success in the business, however, that is not what HR exists for. This only happens to be one of the several means of maximizing synergies in the business. To put it in proper perspective, issues requiring the most compliance are the most basic of services that HR offers and normally the first to go, when HR begins to consider outsourcing as a means of enabling its focus on the core and strategic. Remember it is always about the strategic direction!
In debunking these myths, it is important to see HR in its essence. HR professionals need to understand their role, prioritize and pursue business goals using HR as a lever irrespective of the misconceptions. Very often credibility is realized through this process and clarity about HR is gained. However, this may not necessarily bring an end to the misconceptions and HR in itself is dynamic and therefore continues to evolve.