05 Sep 2018

The ecstasy and agony of working as an HR professional in organizations today

Recently I came across a very cute poster on my colleague’s desk. It read ‘Nothing surprises me. I work in HR.’ At first the quote seemed funny, but then I realized the gravity of what those few words were trying to convey. Being an HR professional is not an easy job. Add in to that, the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous) world is not so forgiving to say the least. What it means is that we, as HR professionals, have to keep changing the way we work and do it with a quick poise.

I remember the simpler times when HR was all about recruitment, employee engagement, HR operations, training, retention and exit. Today, we commonly come across job profiles which read as: talent attraction, onboarding specialist, employee experience analyst, change champion, HR consultant, HR business partner, shared services expert and whatnot! HR has undergone an incredible transformation from what it was just a decade back to what it is, in today’s times. We are the talent experts and we help solve the problems of the business! Does that mean that HR has a meatier role to play? The answer to this question is a plain, simple ‘yes’!

Today HR is not a department which works in a silo anymore and it certainly isn’t a department which has no clue about the nuances of the business which it supports. The author Jacob Morgan published an article on the Inc in 2017, wherein he emphasized the interesting journey that the profession has taken in the last few years. He clearly outlined in the article that HR has moved away from being a moral police to coaching and mentoring leaders and employees alike. That is absolutely true! Gone are the days when HR did what it was told and today they help some of the bigwigs of the organization make rational and practical decisions based on data and sufficient evidence.

So here are the top five plus points of working as an HR professional in organizations today:

  1. HR gets a first-hand view of the business and also gets to know about how it forms the missing piece of puzzle for the business
  2. Rotation amongst the different HR streams, which is something that wasn’t possible a few years ago, is almost a recurrent truth. Organizations have become kind in letting the HR professionals experiment, take their time and carve out their own paths. However, in the end you’ll always have to be a specialist as opposed to being a generalist.
  3. HR is letting its voice heard in management meetings and CXO level connects. The seats in the meeting room that belonged earlier to only a few coveted departments like finance or sales are now being made available to the HR professionals as well.
  4. With technology kicking in, the dull admin tasks which were being done earlier by HR professionals have been reduced, if not completely eliminated. The professionals now have more time to concentrate on strategic initiatives and can rely on technology to take care of their daily tasks.
  5. HR has metamorphosed into a specialist service based profession as opposed to being just a support function. What I mean by this is; just like in salons where one pays for the individual’s services, similarly an HR’s salary is also now dependent on a no. of skills like networking, negotiation, conflict management, leadership etc. Earlier, the salary just depended on the tasks assigned and performed by an individual at a certain job level. Today the opportunities are more than one could dream of!

However, does that mean that life for an HR professional has become easier? Well, it has become more challenging for sure, but easy? Maybe no! As I had stated in my opening paragraph, the VUCA world is not very forgiving and one has to strive really hard to catch up with it. So what does that mean in the end?

That means, HR has to face hurdles too and listed below are the some of them that pose a big question mark in the face of the HR professionals:

  1. HR has to do the thin balancing act of keeping the employees happy and helping the organization make profits. Earlier, it was simple. HR concentrated on employees whereas the other departments concentrated on getting more revenues and maintaining the profit. With HR now being held equally responsible for helping businesses thrive (some CHROs have business related targets included in their goal sheets now!) they really have to up their game to ensure the balance between retaining great talent and making great profits is preserved.
  2. Although with the advent of technology the admin tasks have been minimized, but the tracking of data has become imperative and more common. Earlier, HR professional could get away with a lot of things since their work was only measured qualitatively. However, now their progress and work too is tracked by metrics and dashboards!
  3. As HR becomes a strong contender for the CEO throne, other departments sometimes try and underplay the significance of the contributions of the HR professionals. When HR becomes a soft target, low spirits can come in the form of dialogues like ‘that’s the HR’s job’, ‘HR is supposed to help employees set their goals. Why do they pass the buck to us?’, ‘HR is nothing more than a glorified admin’ etc. HR professionals have always braved the front when it comes to discouragement and they continue to do so even now.
  4. With technology and processes gaining prominence, sometimes the human touch goes missing. For eg: A time tracker software installed in an employee’s system shows the time spent by the employee on various tasks in a particular day. It also records the time spent in front of the system. Now suppose, the employee has been busy helping a colleague with project work or has been on a call with a client trying to pacify her, the system does not record it. As HR professionals, while our responsibility is to highlight the data as provided by the system, it is equally important that we highlight the reasons for the same when the manager of the employee pulls out the timesheet data from the system for cross verification/checking. It is our responsibility to defend the employee and his/her work when the reasons are genuine and work towards gaining the relevant stakeholder’s confidence.
  5. The inter-stream movement of HR is still very limited. By this I mean, employees from technology, sales, marketing etc. can move to HR easily. Usually that doesn’t even require a formal degree. However, HR professionals can rarely move to other careers like sales, finance etc.

After drawing your special attention to the advantages and hindrances of working as an HR professional in organizations today, I would like to share a golden quote on HR echoed by Sir Kenneth Robinson who is a British author. The quote reads like this: ‘Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.’ This quote is an evergreen quote and holds good even today! We, as HR professionals, live in an opportune moment where our path of success is determined by our own perseverance and hunger to learn.

While the ecstasy and agony of working as an HR professional will follow us like two sides of the same coin, it is up to us to toss the coin and choose which side wins! In conclusion, there might be new inventions and discoveries like cryptocurrencies, AI etc. in today’s times; but HR as a profession, transcends beyond all that is material and helps bring out the human element in a deeply materialistic world.

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