Any of us who have ever watched a gangster movie or read one of the many novels about crime families and the mafia have heard the expression making your bones. The expression most literally is interpreted as committing a murder or execution on behalf of the family, becoming a made man or full member of the secret society.

Another interpretation that I would like to explore in a non- crime, non- mafia context is that of establishing your credibility as a professional.

As many of you know I started my career three decades ago in a profession at that time we called Personnel, these days we refer to it with a number of titles, most commonly human resources.

 When I started my career in Personnel we did not occupy a space at the top of the pyramid. In fact my advisor asked me why I was wasting my talents pursuing a field that lacked professional credibility and the kind of acknowledgement of other real business disciplines.

The reason I made that decision thirty plus years ago is that I felt that the relationships between employer and employed and vendor and customer are ultimately what drives long term, sustained success for any organization and that many of our principles and models were poorly designed and preventing us from capitalizing on it. 

I want to be clear that my focus then was not touchy feely, I can assure you I have never been described that way.

The thing that makes me a bit sad is that in large part the credibility of the human resources profession has not advanced nearly as much as I had hoped over that period from when I started and today.

I don’t have any regrets about the career path I chose. I enjoyed a successful corporate career advancing through the ranks of human resources ultimately occupying C level positions representing that function in more than one organization. In fact it was my success in those roles that led on several occasions to my being asked to assume broader operational responsibility for multiple functions. 

My bosses and clients said “wow, you get this people thing and how it impacts the business. More importantly you help me and others get it to.” I made my bones.

I have spent a good part of the last fifteen years as an executive and management consultant trying to promote that model to others and help build a new generation of leaders, managers, and human resources professionals.

The last week has been interesting in terms of that journey. I had occasion to speak with an organization that provides articles and other support materials to people and organizations around relationship and human resources issues.

It was interesting that the person I spoke with saw my transition into broader roles and consulting as a desire to get away from Human Resources. I was a little stunned. I don’t see it that way. I told her that quite the opposite I never desired to get way from human resources, I want to transform it; both in terms of how practitioners and our clients see it.

I shared with her that I found a recent national survey of human resources executives who when asked what the most important role HR plays in their organization responded with compliance. I was dismayed. 

She inquired as to whether or not I see compliance as unimportant; I assured her I don’t see it as unimportant; I just see it as a hygiene factor.

As we sit here today employee engagement, which I define as the level of alignment and the providing of maximum discretionary effort on the part of employees is at some of the lowest points it has been since we began tracking it, yet less than 30 % of organizations have a plan or strategy to address it.

The Department of Labor estimates that employee turnover; both voluntary and involuntary, costs the U.S. economy $5 trillion annually in hard and soft costs. 

The American Mental Health Association says we lose another $200 billion annually to the phenomenon of presenteeism, where people show up to work, but perform substantially below their capabilities because of job related stress, dissatisfaction, poor management and other related factors.

The United States spends 40% more of its Gross Domestic Product on the delivery of health care than the next highest industrialized country for mediocre outcomes – estimated at 16% of GDP in 2011 and growing.

Trust in senior management and leadership in general is at historical lows. C level compensation has increased at over 20 percent per annum the last two years while the average person has seen about a 2% increase. Unemployment just dropped below 8% for the first time in four years.
Every day I read blogs and comments about why human resources should be disbanded or at least excluded from processes like hiring, selection, training, etc.

I still go on sites and see organizations that refer to Labor Relations and Human Capital.
A survey of CEOs a few weeks back indicated a plurality could not describe what their Chief Human Resources executive did…, and yet as a profession we responded our number one priority or value proposition is compliance. Really?

The research and my experience demonstrate that organizations with high employee engagement scores outperform their counterparts in every key performance metric by significant margins. 

Gallup recently suggested that employee engagement may be the single most important metric for predicting organizational performance and sustained success that we have.

My research and experience tells me pretty convincingly that compliance does not create or enhance employee engagement.

I read a post today talking to human resources professionals about how to enhance their professional credibility and career advancement by effectively utilizing social media, speaking, writing and other vehicles to create and promote their personal brand

I think that is fine, but first I would suggest you build a foundation and make your bones. Build a track record and demonstrate that you know how to contribute to aligning individual and collective employee performance in support of the organizations goals. Demonstrate you understand the business or organization you serve and how you fit in. More importantly show others how they fit in. Participate in developing a new generation of leaders and managers who understand the importance of relationships and alignment and can apply it.

I am not singling out HR. I have the same message for all aspiring leaders and managers. Quite candidly your graduate degrees, certifications, and other credentials don’t in and of themselves demonstrate you have what it takes to be a leader.

Make your bones and then we will talk about your career aspirations and promotional path.

Given where we are the environment is replete with opportunity……. 


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