I started this blog as a way to share some of my thoughts on the role of Human Resources in an organization based on my 15+ years working in various HR roles within both large and small companies in Silicon Valley. I’ve seen a big shift in the role of HR within organizations during this time and want to help educate non-HR folks on what to expect from their Human Resource departments. Many executives have a very limited view on the role of HR within their organizations. I hope to help change that. This blog will cover “What Every Exec Needs To Know About HR (And The 25 Most Common Mistakes They Make)”
The Role of HR in an Organization
The role of Human Resources (HR) within an organization has changed a great deal over the past 25 years. For much of its existence within a corporation, HR has been known as the “Personnel Department”. This is the place where (mostly) women worked in roles that were (mostly) clerical and administrative.
Personnel existed to ensure that company paperwork and forms were filled out in a timely manner and to help smooth over problems when employees had concerns. It also existed to protect the company from harm and it used a heavy hand in its wielding of the “Employee Rulebook” to ensure strict adherence to policies and procedures. This was “Rulebook HR” at its finest.
As technology evolved, it also changed how corporations performed their work. The Personnel Department was not immune to these changes. With the advent of technology that allowed employees to process much of their own paperwork and managers to have control over all personnel data related to their employees, much of the administrative and clerical work of HR went away.
Additionally, with the rise of Silicon Valley, new companies were reinventing both different ways to work and creating unique cultures that fostered a different corporate mindset. With none of the old corporate rules seeming to apply, companies began with a “greenfield” mentality to create a new type of corporation. This corporation would be more employee-friendly and open to new ideas on how and where to work (like working from home, job-sharing, flexible hours, etc.). Employees were treated less like minions expected to perform within rigid protocols during set times and more like partial company owners. Stock options were granted to employees with the message that each one of them had a critical role to play in the company’s success.
In this new paradigm, it was necessary to treat these knowledge workers and engineers differently. Whereas a good salary and a yearly bonus might have been sufficient to both attract and retain employees previously, these new employees expected much more. Besides company equity, they expected a different environment and culture in which to work. Ideas about empowerment, openness, and flexibility began to take root and the social contract between employer and employee changed as employees began exerting their new-found leverage in the knowledge economy. If unsatisfied at Company “A” for whatever reason, they could easily move to Company “B” without missing a beat.
With all of these changes, companies needed to respond in meaningful ways to ensure not only their competitiveness, but also their very survival. The stage was set for the reinvention of the Personnel department into the Human Resources department. In this new model, no longer would a Personnel manager be able to wave an employee manual to get both managers and employees to fall in line with company procedures. That time had past.
In this new paradigm, HR professionals are expected to be experts in human capital management. That is, how does an organization manage to get the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time? And, looking out a year or three from now, how will the needs change such that an organization will need yet different skills (and possibly different people) and how does it begin to prepare now for that shift?
While easy to state, the mastery of human capital management is actually quite complex and difficult. HR professionals have had a steep learning curve in gaining proficiency in this area in the past 25 years and not without some difficulty and pushback from the very organizations into which they were hired to help.
With that said, in the most progressive and successful companies, HR is now viewed as a critical partner in an organization’s success. The key competencies that an HR professional needs in order to be successful are the key drivers of what helps to make a company successful. They include such competencies as workforce planning, organizational effectiveness and development, and change management.
These terms have been used a lot and mean a lot of different things to different people. In later blog posts, we will break down these terms into individual competencies and demonstrate the value that they play in helping a company to thrive amidst competition.