So why has no one received the memo?
Let me be honest with you. HR is my second career. I began as a polymer chemist in the 1980’s. As part of my cohort, I became involved in the Quality movement of that era. Juran, Demming, and Crosby were my gurus and my focus consisted of statistical process control, participative management, and quality circles. While my technical colleagues followed the analytics path, I became transfixed by the social and group psychology of successful and dysfunctional organizations. I decided to exit the technical arena of engineers, chemists, and science to enter the social sciences arena – specifically Industrial / Organization Psychology. Today I am a 20 year veteran in Human Resources and I have developed strong views on this profession and the challenges it faces moving forward.
In the late 1980’s I attended a lecture by a noted HR professor, who discussed the future and importance of HR. As I can recall, the main points of the lecture mentioned that in the future, all organizations will have the same tools, software, and systems to compete in the marketplace. What will differentiate successful organizations from the competition is how they attract, manage, and reward their talent. In the future the differentiator will be talent and HR will play a critical role at the center of this emerging transformation. I believed that concept then, as I do believe it now. I have witnessed several organizations have embraced this notion and built a strong, dynamic, workforce. But in the vast majority of others, HR stays stuck in neutral.
HR as a profession is an enigma. The roles, titles, and functions are varied, as is the talent that occupies these jobs. But one issue is clear. HR as a profession must adapt, and adapt quickly to the changing landscape of the modern corporation. Globalization, automation, technology integration, and organizational transformation are now the norm. The HR professional needs to not only understand these concepts, but internalize them as second nature. More and more organizations are looking to HR to provide innovative people solutions for the dynamism of today’s business environment.
I believe we need to confront the several issues which are holding us back as a profession and get serious about forcing change
Stop nepotism hires to HR: the children of executives, the college coaches’ daughter, the governors’ son. Stories abound about the kids of privilege with the appropriate political or family connections and possess the #1 HR attribute: “they like people and have a good personality”. In my first career, all my peers had to pass courses in physical chemistry, differential equations, and analytics to get that Chemistry or Chemical Engineering Degree that was a prerequisite to be hired. The HR professional of today needs the same kind of rigor in business, psychology, analytics and technology that the sciences demand in their respective coursework. Plus, a multidisciplinary background with varied life and career experience, is critical for success.
How about some diversity in HR? I am amazed by the male/female ratio in the crowds at SHRM conferences and HR meetings. Isn’t it time to reach out and attract more men to our profession and fully address the reasons for the imbalance! Anecdotally, it appears to me men are more prevalent in the HR vendor space. Why is that?
Hierarchical Leadership Environment: I have seen this cultural artifact in several organizations. Status and political considerations are primary and create a pecking order in the formation of organizational relationships, communication networks, and basic interaction. This behavior is career suicidal. Never before in history has change in business happened so quickly. Many 20+ year career HR professionals lack the innate knowledge of this evolving technical world. This has created a profession of functionally illiterate leaders, and this is costing organizations dearly.
Abandon hierarchical leadership behaviors and engage the new generation. The millennial employees your organization is hiring today grew up immersed in the Internet, Social Media, and the mobile age. Open yourself to learning from them. The reality is you need them as much as they need you to build a successful organization.
HR Graduate Culture: I may be biased, but the best HR organizations I have seen typically welcome talent with a multidisciplinary background and work experience. Top talent from the business are also welcomed for a stint in HR. The key is to create a dynamic learning environment of varied knowledge, skills, and ability. So why do some organizations focus on hiring graduates from the same degree programs year after year? That may be prudent strategy for technical positions, but limiting in creating a dynamic HR environment.
Most of us hate change. Our natural inclination as human beings is to resist new and different and surround ourselves with the people, processes, and environment that fits our background. Organizations must take proactive steps that keep individuals learning and growing. This is necessary for most occupations, but highly critical for HR professionals.