Dr. Todd Dewett | Founding member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Dr. Todd Dewett | Founding member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

I’ve argued elsewhere that HR will never become a true strategic player until it separates the two radically different factions that define the group.

The first is the mechanical or bureaucratic portion of HR (compensation and benefits) along with anything remotely related to managing compliance. This group tends to look backwards and seeks to avoid screw-ups and court dates.

The second group is more forward looking, and seeks to build a stronger future workforce (recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, leadership development, organizational development, coaching, succession planning, etc.).

Both groups add value in different ways. Nonetheless, the first group is not admired and is often ridiculed. The second tends to be more respected.  Separating the two would improve the fortunes of both. Making this change would be a great start for the profession, but it’s not enough. It occurs to me that we’ll also have to do a better job creating and utilizing HR talent.

Outside of compensation and benefits, there really are only three types of HR professionals:  the party planners, the attorneys, and the business people. Yes, this is an oversimplification, but it makes a point.

The party planners are all about employee engagement. Whether they’re clinging to the term satisfaction, or employee relations, or some new variant, it’s all the same. They have a myopic focus on certain numbers and the data collection process. They argue about what the numbers mean. They tweak certain items on the survey. They love to create fun games and ceremonies, even if many of them seem oddly detached from performance. They genuinely care about employees, but have no idea how to help them.

Next up are the attorneys. They live and breath to keep us out of trouble. They and their minions are all about compliance and risk avoidance. They don’t want lawsuits. They don’t want fines. They don’t make strategically important decisions, but they are very happy to help you with yours in order to eliminate any possibility that it will be construed as problematic by some observer. They are brilliant, but their intellect is too focused on keeping us safe instead of making us great.

Finally, we have the businesspeople. Like the party planners, they genuinely care about the employees. Similar to the attorneys, they typically have at least modest respect for rules and regulations. However, they are also realists who know that success is about doing whatever it takes. The businesspeople have worked in the trenches, not just in the HR department. They have walked a mile in the shoes of other managers in the organization. They have a system wide perspective, knowledge, and appreciation of the gray areas, and a serious can-do attitude. The business people understand that covering you butt and checking some boxes is part of the game, but ultimately, the goal is to create a stronger better team for the future. But even the business people can be too focused on making money and short term financial gains at the expense of both people and the company’s long term health and growth.

So here’s my solution:  move compensation and benefits into their own department, move the party planners into meeting and events roles outside of HR, tame the attorneys by making them work a bit on the front lines, and commit yourself to building an HR team that spends more time with non-HR employees than HR employees.  Long-term, this will increase the number of businesspeople in HR roles and give HR a stronger influence on company strategy.