The Mystique of HR ??

At a recent HR Roundtable I facilitate, an attendee gave the answer that “HR isn’t in the trenches to keep up the ‘Mystique of HR’ !!”  I doubled over in laughter and so did the room.  However, then he gave some background to his answer.  He said, “HR keeps people guessing as to what they do, and why they do it, so employees are never clear about what HR does.”  The room then fell silent.

It fell silent, because the context he gave around his answer truly hit home with those at the Roundtable and with me personally. How can I work in a profession where people think that some mystical being is behind some magical field of smoke and illusion in order to practice the art of Human Resources?

Unfortunately, the sentiment echoed at the Roundtable has truth to it.  We have allowed HR to be someplace people “go to.”  It’s a destination with some unknown consequence just waiting to be unleashed on people for coming to visit. (cue dark, scary music)

Can you even think of another industry that allows “ambiguity” to be it’s brand ??  I can’t.

The only way this moniker and conception of the whirling mists dissipate is for us to be forthright in who we are and what we do.  We can’t want people to see our value, we have to BRING IT !!  If people in your organization don’t know what HR is, or what they offer to the business, then it’s up to YOU to change that.  This isn’t Senior Managment’s job and you can’t wait for it to be written into the Strategic Plan.  You have to model clarity and consistency in how you drive HR throughout the organization.

This isn’t a pipe dream – it’s an expectation.  We can’t continue to think that HR will one day in the distant future get recognized for the invaluable contributions it tirelessly, and selflessly brings each day to the workplace.  (cue the Heavenly AAAAAHHHHS here)

I love the field I’m in and I work to make it an integral part of my company and encourage others in HR to do the same.  I think we need to take our cue from the sage philosopher Bruce Hornsby in his classic “The Way It Is.”  The chorus goes:

“That’s just the way it is.  That’s just the way it is.  Ahh, but don’t you believe them !!”

We can, and must, eliminate the mystique of HR.  We can’t continue to let people guess what we do.  I’m in . . . are you ??


13 thoughts on “The Mystique of HR ??”

  1. Your post made me laugh. I do know what you mean but my job descriptions says basically “does anything anyone asks”. I provide everything from bandaids to legal direction to mediation and everything in between. Not sure anyone here has to wonder, our HR does it all. : )

  2. I think our HR dept is more like “Who’s on first?”. With large companies and HR specialists, it’s hard for staff to know who the “go to” person is for their particular question. As the John Fogerty song “Centerfield” says “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play-TODAY”. I’m all for breaking down the barriers that keep staff from understanding HR.

    1. I love Sue Dowd’s response, particularly because of the “baseball” analogies. Sue, hope you are coming to the Ohio HR Conf in September, because we want to put you in Center Field!

  3. Great points here Steve. If I hang a sign saying “Auto Mechanic”, that doesn’t mean I’m a good auto mechanic. Some businesses hire people in HR to take care of problems for them, not to improve the business. They get the kind of HR people that support the mystique – they hang the sign and do the best they can, including solving problems that don’t belong there. No one knows exactly what they do ’cause the mission’s not clear.

    1. It really comes down to being a HR professional. Finding where you can add value, and no, the business doesn’t always recognize it. … Enter the business case / value proposition, etc. Real HR professionals can cut through the ambiguity, help create clear messages that are not only aligned, but are in the voice of the business. We can prop up the value of talent management, change management, process improvement, etc…, but only by actually understanding the business, it’s people and it’s processes can we succeed.

  4. Just last week, a Controller at my former company told me that they don’t really need HR right now since they aren’t doing any hiring. I was so disappointed that this was the perception of what I had been doing at that company – just hiring staff. So I explained to her that HR encompasses so much more than hiring and firing. All of us HR pros need to take every opportunity to help others understand the breadth and scope of HR practice – whether it’s meeting people at a professional events or even your block party bbq. Start off with an interesting stat or story which will engage their interest long enough for you to give them a flavour of how HR helps employers and employees be successful together.

  5. I actually am disappointed that the HR department in my company didn’t keep up the mystique with me (I lead Accounting). They’ve pulled me in to their dysfunction; I’d rather not know. They even made a verbal offer to my candidate I want to bring over from another company. But now Legal’s saying maybe we can’t bring him on. He turned down another so he could work with me again. I’m mortified. They tried to get me to make the verbal offer – thank god I said no.

    1. Lauren – Sorry to hear that you had a bad experience with HR. I know it happens and I also know that people have bad experiences, at times, with all departments.

      I know that there’s great HR being practiced out there and hope your future encounters with them are better !!

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