HR: It’s a people business…

Flipping through my latest edition of People Management my eye was caught by a somewhat controversial piece by Rob Briner entitled Directors in Denial. Rob is concerned about the number of senior HR people that attempt to distance themselves from the HR role in an effort to align themselves closer with the business.

He used Lucy Adams, HR Director at the BBC as an example who he quoted as describing one of her strengths as “not being an HR person” and that she “prefers to network with CEO’s other senior leaders rather than those in HR”.  Further her advice was “not to comment of people issues” in the boardroom as you are “not the nice lady from Personnel”.

I must say that both in my direct HR career and also as someone working in HR recruitment, I too have witnessed an all too familiar tendency for HR professionals to distance themselves from what is the core of HR – people.

The attraction for me of a career in HR was that, of all the functions in business, it was pretty much the only one that was all encompassing and the one that focused on the core driver for all the other disciplines – the people doing the job.  The psychology of the individual, their motivation, development and opinion was at the core of my desire to make HR my career.

Imagine my surprise then when, not long after graduating with my CIPD diploma (or IPM as it was then!) under my arm I was in the audience of a senior HR person who declared:

“I ask all potential candidates for my HR team why they are in HR and if any of them say ‘because I’m interested/fascinated/passionate about people” I show them the door immediately”

I was shocked. But over time I fell into the same trap myself, repeating a similar mantra and doing my best to distance myself from the ‘soft stuff’.   Ultimately though, I didn’t believe it and this internal conflict of values was the catalyst for me leaving the profession.

So off I went, in pursuit of a ‘commercial’ role, the primary purpose of which was to see if I had been missing something people in ‘real’ jobs faced that their colleagues in HR couldn’t appreciate.

My conclusion?  Dare I say that after 23 years of working HR, sales, business development, operations, marketing and technology, in start ups and global corporations I can honestly say that it’s the people in the ‘real’ jobs who are often missing the point.

And the point is that organisations are not about financial models or great products or class beating services.  They are about people. And in this competitive and economically challenged landscape, they are your only point of difference.

From great ideas people and serial entrepreneurs to leaders of large corporations – none of them could do anything without the people at all levels below them delivering the goods.  In fact, in many cases, if it wasn’t for some of these hidden heroes clearing up the mess made leadership incompetence we wouldn’t have these organisations/products/services at all.

Whether you believe HR should exist or not – a debate recently covered here by Bill Boorman – we currently do.  And in the meantime the profession would do itself a lot of favours if it actually valued the work it does rather than seek kudos by distancing itself from it.

Think of it this way.  For as long as I have been working we have been trying to be taken more seriously/get a seat at the top table/have more credibility – however you want to phrase the inadequacy and angst of the profession.  And in an effort to do this, throughout the entire time we have been distancing ourselves from the soft stuff, trying to be ‘more commercial’, trying to derive value and prove worth by obsessing and measuring everything we do.

The fact that the debate is still ongoing, and organisations are still, largely, completely incompetent when it comes to people matters, tells you something – its not working.

HR is about people.  If you are not passionate about people, the human animal and its motivations, emotions, shortcomings and potential, then you shouldn’t really be in the profession at all.

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