Why we need to value HR

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By Daniel Bobinski

Few departments in an organization get more eye rolls than that group we call human resources. Regardless of whether this is justified, it’s been my observation that many managers misunderstand or, even worse, ignore the strategic partners they have in their HR department. The truth is that HR can add a lot to a company’s bottom line – if you let them.

Most of us view human resources as the department – or the person – that takes care of employment particulars and compliance. You know, things like compensation and benefits, employee assistance and labor relations. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but you should know that a traditional HR office is only one side of the HR profession. It’s the side we’re all most familiar with, and it’s called human resource management, or HRM.

What most folks don’t know is there’s another side of the HR profession, and it’s called human resource development, or HRD. People working in HRD aren’t usually involved in employee assistance and labor relations. HRD professionals are mainly focused on organizational development, training and development and career development.

Naturally, some HR duties are performed by both HRM and HRD personnel, such as staffing and selection, performance management systems, human resource planning and organizational/job design.

Now that you know there’s a difference, I need to let you in on a little secret: Incorporating input from both sides of HR can propel your organization to higher levels of productivity, quality and innovation.

Let me say that a different way. If you get input from both HRM and HRD personnel, you are almost certain to give your strategic alignment a boost. Conversely, if you’re busy rolling your eyes at HR, or if you think HRM people are automatically good at HRD responsibilities (or vice versa), you’re missing out. Extremely few HR people are proficient at both HRM and HRD roles, so if you expect one side to know the job of the other, you’ll probably find yourself frustrated. Organizations need the skills brought by both HRM and HRD.

Not knowing that both of these specialties exist within the HR realm has led to some unfair castigation of the profession. One of the best-known diatribes appeared a number of years ago in Fast Company magazine. The article, written by a Fast Company editor and titled “Why We Hate HR,” put HR through a meat grinder. Granted, some of it was true, but most of it was for effect.

In the piece, the editor accused HR of not being strategic players. He portrayed them to be either without business acumen, or whips of the accounting department when personnel cuts need to be made. He also blasted HR for not providing strategic training. It’s a common complaint, but one born out of the mistaken belief that HR is just one big umbrella, and anyone working in HR has been trained in both HRM and HRD responsibilities.

It turns out that the editor wrote his scathing article while attending a national convention for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Had he attended the convention for the Association for Talent Development (ATD, an organization for HRD folks), he would have seen presentations on strategic planning and increasing the effectiveness of leadership development programs. Stated plainly, the editor was blaming HRM people for not doing HRD’s job.

This is a common error, but it’s also a huge and sometimes costly error. Human resource management is certainly the more prominent of the two specialties, but that doesn’t mean HRM personnel have the bandwidth to fulfill both roles. Many HR managers I know are so bogged down in the legal aspects of employment compliance and other employee issues that they barely have time to develop job descriptions, let alone develop or deliver any job training. And even if they have time for creating and delivering training, the ability to stand up and talk does not a trainer make. HRD truly is a distinctly different profession.

So what can organizations do better to capitalize on their HR department? My first recommendation is let it soak in deeply that it’s people who make or break the bottom line. If you’re not investing in your people, you’re not investing in your company.

Second, ensure that HR has a seat at the leadership table. Getting HR involved at all levels of operations helps with what I call “strategic alignment.” As someone who’s been a workplace issues consultant for nearly 30 years, I can’t tell you how many businesses I’ve worked with where executives weren’t giving their senior HR professional that seat. This is a mistake. HR professionals are the perfect people to give input to staffing and training issues when the C-suite is discussing expansion or making changes to company operations.

HR’s involvement with strategic alignment helps identify and strategically place key personnel, as well as identify training needs so an organization can meet its strategic goals.

I remember one HR professional giving me a huge “thank you” after I convinced his CEO to give him a seat at their weekly executive meeting. “I’ve been trying to get in there for years,” he told me. “We’ve been wasting so much time and effort patching holes in their plans because they haven’t had my input at the outset.”

The third thing I recommend is this: Realize that most HRM people are not trained in HRD responsibilities, and the same is true in reverse. If you want to implement strategic alignment, both HRM and HRD functions are needed. Misunderstanding or underutilizing either side of the HR profession can be a costly oversight.

As I said up front, human resource people – both the HRM and HRD types – can add a lot to a company’s bottom line. And it starts with viewing them as valuable strategic partners. ICE

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. runs two businesses. One helps teams and individuals learn how to use Emotional Intelligence. The other helps companies improve their training programs. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at daniel@eqfactor.net or (208) 375-7606.

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