07 Sep 2018

The Ecstasy and Agony of Working as an HR Professional in Organizations Today

Unpredictability.

The single most predictable trait across humanity.

Human resource “management” is a paradox. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. Sure, we have come up with inventories, tools, scales – to measure attributes of human beings. But are we there yet? When it comes to measuring (let alone predicting) anything to do with data from human beings, we are far, far behind the heights that we are scaling in other kinds of data and statistics.

Every day at work, a human resource professional meanders this complex, ambiguous terrain of unpredictable human trends, needs, developments, dynamics – and above all, behaviors.

And this is the single biggest ecstasy as well as the single biggest agony of working as an HR professional in organizations today. In Human Resource management, nothing is routine.

There is no way you can say with absolute certainty that an engaged employee today will remain an engaged employee tomorrow. There is no way you can guarantee with 100% confidence that a brilliant performer in one role will do well in a future, larger role. There is no way you can affirm that a perfect hire will be put to the best use by your organization. And to top it all, human needs change every day. For each problem you are trying to solve, there is no precedent. (Indeed, in everyday human resource management, there’s no “Case laws” either, from which you can draw suggestions of what to do.) That’s the agony of working as an HR professional.

But, at the same time, because things keep changing by the day – nay, by the hour, there is the immense scope to do so much! Because you are not dealing with machines, but with humans, you can keep trying different approaches to solve a problem. If one approach fails, you can move on to doing the same thing in a different way – because it’s not a machine you are dealing with, and the same input may not always give the same output. You “fail fast”, you move on to your next move, you deliver results. Most of the “management” in human resource management is nothing but agile project management. You use your finesse. You improve continuously. You use your meticulousness of thought; you learn to build flows. You refine yourself every day. Nobody knows “learning on the job” better than an HR professional. And that is the ecstasy!

The delicate art of balancing is yet another skill that makes life both agony and ecstasy for the HR professional of today. The dilemma of prioritizing – the needs and demands of business (usually with short notice, high visibility, intense stretch) versus the process adherence and agendas of the HR function itself. Many an HR professional, early on in their career – has lost sleep trying to shuttle between the needs of business and the needs of HR. An extremely simple example: Whom do you hire – a perfect culture fit (whom you can see growing to become a leader in your organization) but who can only join after three months, or an average culture fit (whom you see plateauing in a year or two within the organization) who can join tomorrow? To become an effective HR Partner – this art of balancing is the primary competency one requires to use every day – and it is also, of course, an agony, as most of us learn early on in our careers.

Then, one morning we wake up and realize it! It is not about prioritizing at all – it is about aligning! Your work as HR is to match the needs of HR to the needs of business, and to map the demands, strategy and operations of business with the agenda of HR. The day you are successfully able to do this – you know you have become a true partner to business. And this is the ecstasy of balancing!

A lesser-known fact about HR management is that it is almost a professional hazard that the HR function often takes the hardest hit when it comes to performance ratings.

First, because we must lead by example. To practice what we preach (objective adherence to rating parameters), HR professionals are often rated more harshly compared to their colleagues in other functions – where “objective” is often not as “objective” as it is for the HR function.

Second, it is almost ridiculously difficult to define metrics for achievement in the field of HR management. Apart for recruitment TAT, and possibly career movement/promotions, we have few universally accepted, robust metrics for HR performance. So organizations – and HR functions – have historically struggled to showcase their performance through objective metrics. It is agonizing to say the least!

Which, in turn means that as an HR professional, you often have the fluidity to reinvent the wheel, and define your metrics of success. Not everything is always obsessively numbers-driven. You have the wide vista of trying to make your work about quality over sheer quantity (or numbers). And that is the ecstasy.

No, HR is not about organizing rangoli contests (unlike so many recent “funny” videos would have us believe). HR is not about intermittent sparks. HR is an ongoing project that has too many deadlines (oh, the agony!) and no deadlines since it is a continuous improvement project (the ecstasy!).

Let us keep seamlessly integrating it all into a single narrative. Because, in HR, what is agony IS ALSO ecstasy. And it is never only black-and-white.

Writer Bio

Priyadarshini Goswami

People Partner at AB InBev India. Artist, writer, yogi by night. MBA in HR from XLRI Jamshedpur. Ex-journalist. Lover of cats, graphic novels, heavy metal music.

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