No One Wants to Be in HR Today

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By Tiffany David, Founder and Principal of Total People Management

If I had a dime for every time someone told me a horror story involving HR, I’d be writing this from my private island in the Caribbean. The truth is that poor performers can be found in any profession but Human Resources is an easy target. Management and employees continue to perpetuate the joke because some of it is really funny. But the humor is outdated and based on an archetype whose time has run its course. Relationships in the workplace are one of the most rapidly evolving topics of our time and we need to consider who will lead the charge. Rebranding the People profession and changing our titles may help us but only if we also significantly redesign the role and deliver results tied to the new and emerging workplace.

Things weren’t always so confusing for this profession that sprung from executive assistants who shuffled papers in order to stay on the right side of employment law. We were called the Personnel Department back then and, although bland and prudish, everyone knew where they stood. Doubtful any child dreamed of becoming Head of Personnel. It’s just where you ended up through twists of events; sort of like recruiting.

Today, no one admits to being an HR Professional. At a Vistage meeting recently, a very bright and experienced HR leader explained to the group that she wasn’t really HR. “I’m more strategic than that. I solve for business problems.” Wait! When did HR become the scarlet letters for a driven, savvy professional who achieves business objectives?

Maybe its comments like those that drive the attempts to convince others of how far we’ve come in recent years. Look at Airbnb who lacks an HR Leader but promotes Head of Employee Experience as the team responsible for the health and happiness of the company. The list is long. Perhaps you have a Chief Happiness Officer, Human Success Champion, Ambassador of Joy, or Minister of Culture at your company. These are descriptors designed to attract new talent but fall short of giving weight to the importance of our role. They imply friendly support and smiling employees who are not getting fired, not hating their boss and not feeling like surfing the internet is a better use of their time than completing yet another PowerPoint deck. We all know that reality kicks in sooner or later and the titles can seem empty, if not downright disingenuous.

What has become crystal clear is that HR is ripe for a rebranding initiative. In Tim Lebrecht’s TED Talk, 3 Ways to (Usefully) Lose Control of Your Brand, he tell us that “your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room.” Over the past few years, the C-suite has rated HR a solid ‘C’ grade—and that doesn’t stand for Chief. In an article by the Henley Centre for HR Excellence, “a significant proportion of respondents believe that their heads of HR are overly preoccupied with a narrow HR agenda.” So, you see, the solution cannot be found in clever titles because the problem is rooted in perceptions based on experience.

Never before has the world of work needed a more human perspective to achieve business success. The trends make it clear that our workforce needs leaders who understand and demonstrate integrity, authenticity and collaboration. All signs point to changes around augmented workers, continuous and digital learning, expanding skills sets rather than specialization, agile workflows with project teams, blending contributor groups and more; all happening at the speed of light.

Envision a team whose combined skills allow them to deliver on projects around talent acquisition, employee well-being, career learning and development, and inclusion all because they utilize technology in a smart workplace and know how to leverage human touch opportunities. That is where we’re going and some of us are there already.

If we focus more on Workforce Empowerment teams (acronym test =W.E.) as the new moniker for HR and, most importantly, demonstrate the ability our profession has to see all areas of the organization in order to solve for key business objectives, our profession will have evolved. I only care about my title if it shifts your perception of my value to the organization. A career focused on WE is what I’m all about.

Now, what color of balloons should we have at the rebranding party?

About the author: As Founder and Principal of Total People Management, Tiffany consults with leaders to proactively succeed with their People strategies. She believes that today is a great time to influence the rebellious future of work and, to that end, is the Chief Disrupter for #DisruptHR San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @RTifanyDavid.

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