When is an HR Job…NOT an HR Job?

groucho marx glassesThere’s always a lot of chatter about the upcoming demise of HR; will the profession adapt and change in order to remain viable, effective and relevant in the future world of work?

Ah yes…but the future is here:

  • Technology has reshaped how people connect and it has driven new and different ways for people to share and collaborate.
  • The traditional view of ‘the job’ is being blown up.
  • Employees are consumers of work and they expect immediate and transparent access to information and to each other.
  • Leaders have quickly learned that the old models of managing people (command-and-control anyone?) are withering on the vine; dead and dying.

In the midst of all this change sits the HR professional. She’s often hesitant to use technology and reluctant to realize that candidates are increasingly unwilling to purchase the work experience she’s selling. She’s sometimes unable or unwilling to understand that her role is not about promoting the HR agenda (compliance! structure! benefit administration! policies!!!!) but is, rather, about impacting the business agenda by strengthening capacities and capabilities for success.

Yet even if she is planning for the future of work that doesn’t mean those around her are doing the same.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately because of two distinct situations that came to my attention over the last year.

Company A has several thousand employees and, in a volatile industry sector, experienced the need to shore up some financial and operational items. A new leadership team, consultants and other interested parties moved into slash-and-burn mode with RIFs, re-organizations and changes/cuts in product offerings and business lines. Working for a labor intensive organization with high turnover (common for the industry) the human resources team always had a lot of fish in the fryer…but no more. HR was gutted. Eviscerated. The new model included the elimination of the CHRO position (“I don’t believe in HR” was uttered by a senior executive) and the removal of various HR generalists and specialists while the lone (as in 1) HR employee was moved under the Risk and Compliance Department. While he still holds an HR title it’s not – really – an HR job. Or is it?

Company B has several hundred employees and, in a hot and competitive industry sector, is in hyper growth mode. The leadership team identified talent, people development, and sustaining of organizational culture as necessary ingredients in the organizational gumbo and looked to grow out the HR/talent function by adding an HR leader to unite the talent acquisition staff (long nestled within business units) with the foundational HR staff (reporting to the COO). They had an idea to implement a fairly traditional model that was later upended for, one can assume, various reasons. Rather than create a human resources department with a defined leader, the HR/talent function (and along with it some plans for revising and revamping that which exists) was assigned to an executive who also oversees a key business division. It was akin to informing the VP of Sales that she’s also now the head of HR. She doesn’t have an HR title and it’s not – really – an HR job. Or is it?


So who, at these two very different organizations, has the HR job? If we take the traditional view we would say it’s the practitioner at Company A; he has an HR title and a smorgasbord of tasks associated with human resources are in his domain including policies, compliance, and the vetting of employee relations incidents and calls.

In my estimation though we’ll come to see in the very near future that it’s the multi-tasking executive in Company B who truly holds the HR job; she’s leading the business agenda while maintaining oversight of the talent strategies that lead to the attainment of growth and revenue goals.

Kind of an exciting time to be in HR. Or not.

Depends on what you consider an HR job.


  1. James says:

    It seems like there’s an internal debate, within the HR field, whether HR is compliance/benefits or culture/engagement. So, until that’s settled, who’s to say what is or is not an “HR job”?

    It seems like, outside of HR professionals, people do think of HR as the compliance/benefits function. (“I don’t believe in HR” from Company A exec.) However, in a time when young adults are always hearing about the perks offered by the likes of Google and Apple (chef-catered meals! shuttle buses with wifi!) who wouldn’t want their workplaces to be even just a little bit Googl-ier? Would that same Co. A exec say that he doesn’t believe Google is doing the right things to draw talent, build a brand?

    Maybe, because “HR” is ingrained in people’s minds as compliance/benefits, it’s time to make a clear distinction? If we’re not going to have a CHRO, maybe we still need a Chief Culture Officer? Or, if “culture” is important, then maybe it is something we assign as a key responsibility to a senior exec. Why CAN’T the VP of Sales handle the culture function? Or the Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Information Officer?

    • Robin Schooling says:

      I agree James in that this conversation stems, more often than not, from our own HR navel-gazing and our inability – even amongst ourselves! – to describe “what” HR should look like and do. When some in HR proudly wear the mantle as ‘policy police’ and the Dept of NO it can be hard to adjust the thinking.

      And yup – there is NOTHING that says the VP of Sales/Marketing/Ops shouldn’t be in charge of talent; they SHOULD consider themselves in charge of it anyway. 😉

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