So What Is HR Exactly?
I was having lunch recently with a client and a very capable human resources professional that I was introducing to him and he posed that question.
He wasn’t being sarcastic or demeaning. His organization has never hired a professional human resources person in their 50-year history so he was genuinely curious about what he could expect from making this kind of investment.
I have to say as someone who has been in and around the profession for 30+ years that still remains and interesting question for me.
Is hasn’t been that long since a national survey of CEO’s and COO’s couldn’t frame a consistent answer to that question. Even scarier to me was that the majority of senior level human resources practitioners responded that the most important role they play in their organization is compliance.
I find that utterly disheartening. With four generations in the workplace, employee engagement stalled at lower than 30 percent, and organizations indicating that the acquisition and retention of talent is a key issue for the foreseeable future and the “top” minds in HR think that compliance and keeping the lid on are our highest value added activities…
Years ago when I was working in manufacturing the Total Quality Movement was just starting to gain momentum. Someone had the brilliant insight that building quality in was way better than bolting it on. Quality professional began evolving from functionaries to internal consultants, building appropriate processes and deploying them throughout the organization rather than the old school end of the line approach. It makes sense.
I have seen a number of those in the HR movement seeking to piggy back on that approach with lots of cross certifications in Black Belt and Six Sigma.
In my mind the problem with that is that those address intellectual processes. They are about building things.
When we are dealing with people we are dealing (or should be) with emotional processes.
The most important part of any high functioning relationship is trust and there is not a recipe for trust.
Stephen MR Covey brilliantly describes the three levels of trust, deterrence, knowledge based, and identity based. As you might suspect he believes as I do that identity based is by far the most important of the three.
Therein lies the problem with traditional HR. Compliance is all about deterrence. Six Sigma, Black Belt, and HR certifications are all about competency. Oops we left out that identity based thing.
I want to be clear that the first two are important elements to getting to identity based trust. Knowledge based has competency and character as foundational elements and you need those to be an effective manager.
Effective managers are critical to every organization and management is different than leadership. Bluntly you don’t need armies of leaders in an organization.
So to answer the question my client posed I would submit my answer-
•    HR helps the organization answer the Why question posed in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.
•    HR helps identify the values and attributes that are fundamental to and congruent with the Why. As I have said before creating alignment for people who already share your values is much easier than trying to “fix” people.
•    HR helps identify and deploy the competencies that reinforce the performance that we desire and ensures that those are practiced consistently across the organization. Those include setting expectations, giving feedback, course correcting, and coaching among others. Those competencies belong to managers, not HR.
I recommend that HR gets way better about helping organizations answer their WHY and reinforcing the values and way less about compliance and certifications.
We need to teach managers and emerging leaders about how to trust and be trusted. Trust is not an entitlement. It doesn’t come with a title, position, certification, or degree.
There are skills, attributes and abilities that are foundational to that process and they can be taught and learned and in my opinion those are part of HR’s charter as well.
So in the final analysis HR doesn’t manage human capital, we don’t master compliance. We teach organizations and people how to create an environment where people join up rather than comply and we share a vision and goals…..



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