Are You More Than an HR Professional?

6 Apr

Move Human Resources to Strategic PartnerFor the past four years, once or twice a year, I’ve stood before a room of students studying for the HRCI exam in the hopes of earning a PHR or SPHR designation. I’m there to teach the Strategic Management module. All of them walk in as HR Professionals. My goal is to get them to leave with a new attitude. If they want to be strategic, if they really want to impact their organization, they need to demonstrate they are Business Professionals with expertise in HR. It doesn’t sound like much of a change, but I think it’s huge.

In the past, an HR Professional advised and assisted managers in managing human resources. They gathered facts, diagnosed problems, provided solutions and offered assistance on employee-related problems. They provided service to a diverse customer base – employees, managers, executives, vendors, applicants, retirees, etc.  They exercised control or authority by reviewing and measuring employee performance. And they pushed a lot of paper.

In many cases, they became known as the people who did the hiring and firing, told people what they could and couldn’t do, and they organized the company picnic. They were perceived as members of the “Department of Sunshine and Rainbows.”

Don’t get me wrong. My Myers-Briggs personality inventory says I’m an “F” off the scale. I make decisions based on feelings. I understand and gravitate towards the people who say I’m a “people person,” so I entered the field of HR. But as an officer of a company, I’ve learned the role of HR has expanded.

Today’s successful HR practitioner must also have a strategic focus, a global, long-term, forward-thinking focus. They help create a culture and build an organization that meets its goals. They help an organization prepare for change; forecast human capital needs, manage talent, and develop systems that support strategic objectives.

Of course they still have operational and administrative duties. HR has a role in the day-to-day tasks that are necessary to run an organization and they have to deal with compliance issues and record keeping.

But, to be strategic, they must understand the perspective of their business partners; finance and accounting, marketing and sales, operations, information technology, and the employees. It’s the only way they will be able to collaborate and identify internal needs and emerging issues. Today’s HR professional must understand the entire business.

Of course, it takes time to understand the business – to step back and think strategically. To regularly meet, formally or informally, with business partners to get to know them and what’s going on in their world. An HR professional bogged down in paperwork and administrative tasks doesn’t have time to be strategic.

It also takes timely data and the ability to analyze the data to spot problems, identify trends and forecast future outcomes. It comes back to time. To be strategic, you can’t be spending time pulling paper out of files or trying to pull data out of different systems and cobble it together manually in a spreadsheet.

Luckily, like the HR profession, HR technology has come a long way too. Modern human resources management systems integrate with other systems for seamless data transfer. Automation and workflow helps tasks flow through a process without significant manual intervention. Dynamic reporting puts up-to-the-minute data at your fingertips without waiting for batch jobs or IT support. Web-based self-service empowers employees and managers by giving them access to appropriate information and let’s them “help themselves” without calling down to HR for assistance with day-to-day tasks.

When you’re considering HR technology, put on your business hat and think about the needs and goals of the organization. What system will help the organization deliver on its mission and achieve its goals? Of course, your expertise ensures it supports the HR function. Remember, now you’re a business professional with expertise in HR – not an HR professional.

16 Responses to “Are You More Than an HR Professional?”

  1. Jen Erb April 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Right on Joe! Strategic contribution of HR professionals is what makes a company successful. HR must use the data and resources we have to address the biggest challenges of the organization.

  2. Sharon DeLay, MBA, SPHR April 8, 2011 at 4:25 am #

    I have to agree that business person with HR expertise is an accurate picture of my professional life. To no understand how our people and our business functions align result in poor hiring, poor staffing strategy, poor productivity, and ultimately poor profitability.

  3. Sumeeta April 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    Great article Joe. I was in your latest SPHR class and it was very great to have you as the facilitator!!

  4. Tom Erb April 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Great post Joe! I agree that HR should position ourselves as business professionals. Talent strategy will continue to be a critical component to a company’s strategic plan and overall success.

  5. Nicole Smith April 6, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    This is a great article and I can speak first hand in seeing Joe “walk the walk”. He is so passionate about what he does and loves being around people, his energy is catching! I had the honor of being in Joe’s class and he is able to really bring theories and concepts down to practical and useful actions. You are right on about the evolution of HR, you must ensure you are always looking at big picture and understanding the business. While those in HR understand the value and critical things we bring to the table, this is always reviewed for return on investment by others. We must be strategic and always look for opportunities to grow and develop and create significant value. Great job Joe!

  6. Tracy April 6, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    I am one of two in my company’s HR department and I totally agree with your article! It is imperative that we understand the big picture and how every role is interdependent. This allows for us to gather insight on what we can expect in the future and can allow us to plan accordingly.

  7. Jason April 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm #


    This article is right on the money. Funny thing is I was just having this some conversation with someone yesterday!

  8. Rick April 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    That is an outstanding article. I am not an HR professional, not even a professional at, but I agree with your assessment. I think for us that are not in the HR field, we see the HR sector as the Department of Rainbow and Sunshine. We associate them, at least I always have, as the PR organization of the company. They are the cheerleaders of the group. You forget that they are in charge of real issues and run the policy and compliance shop of a business.
    Very nice article.

  9. Melissa White April 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Great article Joe!

  10. Rachel Conwell April 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Excellent blog with a great topic. Definitely business professionals with an expertise in HR; I agree fully!

  11. Colleen Rains SPHR April 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Joe hits the bullseye! HR Pros bring the highest value to their organizations when they use “bifocal” vision; seeing the big view out at the horizon as well as the fine print for the issues at hand! His key points are the reality check for today’s HR professionals.

  12. Debbie Elder April 6, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    You have inspired me! I was in your latest class and cannot tell you how quickly the time passed. You are smart, engaging, clever, and funny! I was very captivated…Why can’t you facilitate all the classes?

  13. Nichole McCaleb April 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Joe’s article is very insightful! Thinking more as a business professional with an expertise in HR is certainly more along the lines of strategic thinking. So I will go forward and use my HR expertise in the business world and help our organization grow!

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