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Robin Schooling, Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

If we ask one hundred human resources professionals what they do, we’ll get one hundred different answers. I can accept that; there’s a huge variation in HR professionals’ responsibilities due to factors including industry, company size, geography and the preferences of leadership teams and senior executives. Some CEOs task their HR teams with growing data use and venturing into predictive analytics. Leaders of companies in industries that heavily compete for talent often approve a robust recruitment marketing/talent attraction strategy. Other companies treat HR’s primary role as ensuring the correct labor-law posters are hung, employee attendance is being monitored, benefits enrollments are being processed. Oh… and to take charge of planning the annual holiday party.

Duties, responsibilities, and things to do.

Defining HR by “what HR does” divides practitioners into inaccurate categories. The experienced senior HR leader who works for a mid-sized regional hospital in flyover country USA decides she doesn’t need to invest her time learning about digital recruitment marketing because she’s not in the glamorous tech industry in Silicon Valley. The early-career HR Representative from Dallas (responsible for employee relations, running payroll, managing employee leaves of absence, and providing front desk coverage for the company receptionist) may feel she’s working in an entirely different profession than the early-career HR Representative who works for a Fortune 100 NYC based financial firm whom she met at a conference. They may hold the same title and even work in the same industry, but what they do is not the same at all. I’ve seen this lead to divisiveness, judgmental superiority, and condescending attitudes.

For every talent acquisition leader knee-deep in an employer branding initiative and doing recruitment marketing with slick tools and technologies, there are many more HR professionals using email, paper applications, and a spreadsheet to manage their recruiting function. Their desired outcomes are likely the same. Yet, when they meet at a networking event, rather than learn from each other the conversations revolves around what-they-do. If they even meet at all, that is; the practitioner running her recruiting desk with a spreadsheet and manila file folders may feel too distanced from this mysterious world and never even consider attending the “Social Sourcing Secret Handshake Summit.”

Which is sad.

For event organizers and membership organizations (hello SHRM!), using categories based on duties or responsibilities results in program content that does not match what practitioners actually need or want.

As human resources professionals we should not let ourselves be defined by what we do. What HR does is much less important than why we do it.

Understanding why is critical; every HR practitioner, leader and HR team should take the time to contemplate “why does HR exist?” To ask and answer questions such as why do we do – what we do – the way that we do it?”

The answers will vary by organization and by individual but are also important to guide one’s career in human resources. Think about…

  • What is the role of HR?
  • Why is HR necessary within your organization?
  • What are your guiding principles as an HR professional?
  • How will you, and your HR team, deliver value?
  • What are the actions and behaviors you’ll exhibit that not only bring value but also align with your reason for existence?
  • What is your purpose?

This exercise can be challenging; answering the question “why is HR necessary in my organization” often elicits a laundry list of chores and tasks. Remember though…what we do is much less important than why we do it.

So go deep. If you believe that HR exists to champion high performance and promote company growth then you need to be able to draw a line-of-sight from every action and activity of your day-to-day to that purpose. What you do – and the way you do it – must be directly in line with why your role, function and department exists.

HR needs to be practical. But it also needs to be purposeful.


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