Are you HR's own worst enemy?
Generally speaking, I’m not that easily offended. You can criticise my hairdo or musical tastes, insult my cat or even my mother and I’ll only be slightly miffed – but God help anyone who dares to cast aspersions on my professional field! I’m more than capable of taking constructive criticism, but anything that undermines or negates HR is guaranteed to make that red mist descend. Maybe I’m being a bit precious here, but a lot of my individual identity and self-worth stems from my chosen area of work, and I feel very strongly if anyone disses it. So I’ve been particularly galled by incidents where that dissention has come from within the profession, which has left me wondering – am I in the HR minority here?
I’m hugely committed to HR and the value it brings, take a lot of pride and pleasure in my work, and also in referring to myself as a ‘fully qualified HR professional’. I would have thought that anyone with an HR career would feel the same, but apparently not. Take for example a recent candidate I interviewed for an HR role. This person had a 10-year career in HR, starting at an admin level and working their way up to HR Manager, all within the same company. I noted though that they had no CIPD or other HR-related qualifications, and asked why. The answer came back, “Well, I started doing it but then dropped out – I didn’t think it was necessary really.”
Really? Well, thanks for just completely devaluing my professional qualifications and rendering 2 years of my life pointless then, not to mention all the CPD and upgrading that I’ve done over the 18 years since. I queried why they would think professional qualifications superfluous if they had decided on an HR career. Turns out they hadn’t actually decided on an HR career – they’d just changed from one admin role to another a decade ago, then had a series of departmental promotions. They knew their own company HR processes well enough, but clearly had little or no awareness of HR outside of that narrow context (or the fact that most senior HR vacancies should expect you to be at least part-CIPD qualified ). I expect they’ll be staying with their current employer a bit longer than they’d hoped…
On similar lines, I was chatting to another HR person at a networking event. They were disparaging their HR job, and I jokingly reminded them it had been their career choice. That clearly went down like a sack of spuds – the withering (and probably rhetorical) response was “I didn’t choose to work in HR – did you?” Erm, yes, I did actually. I explained that I’d researched it at University, spoke to someone in the profession, checked out what qualification I needed, went and got it, applied for HR jobs, and now here I am, doing what I love and hopefully being pretty good at it. We ended up eyeing each other curiously, and I might add, somewhat suspiciously. I was amazed that someone would work in HR if they thought so little of it, and they were amazed that someone would do it happily and of their own free will.
I often hear horror stories of ineffectual HR departments /individuals, whose lack of enthusiasm and commitment, as well as capability, have made people think that HR is as much use as a chocolate teapot. I find myself having to defend what I do and explain that all HR professionals (and in some cases we’re clearly using the term ‘professional’ loosely) are not the same. On the plus side, although we can be tarred with the same brush, sometimes it can work in our favour by making the rest of us look even better - I have been told on numerous occasions that I’m the ‘best HR’ they have ever had, which is great, but I strongly suspect that is as much in comparison to poor competition as on my own merits.
Now, I’m all for climbing the career ladder, but surely it should be a career you’re actually committed to, not one you’ve just fallen into through some quirk of fate, in a field that you aren’t actually that interested in. Or worse, that you know nothing about - although I’d argue that this can only happen if whoever is hiring you is equally ignorant. Who are the decision-making muppets who appoint people to roles they are evidently unsuitable for and often don’t really want anyway? When I left my first Personnel Manager position, I was insulted to find that I’d been replaced internally by the company’s Business Analyst. Eh? What did they know about employment law, hiring and firing and all the stuff in between? To appoint someone just because they are generally bright, know the business and have good interpersonal skills, effectively negates the specialist knowledge and expertise that’s needed to be effective in an HR role.
Yet it seems this sort of thing happens a lot. I recently connected on LinkedIn with an old University friend, whose job title was ‘Group HR Director’ for a large firm. Impressive! Except it appeared to be his first HR role, after a career that had been mostly armed forces followed by roles in operations, sales, quality and commerce, and again, nary an HR qualification in sight. He’d clearly worked his way up some corporate ladder or other, but it certainly wasn’t the HR one. He told me later that he had “ended up” in HR and it wasn’t where he wanted to be. Quite offensive to those HR professionals who are striving to reach such a senior position, that someone could effectively leapfrog over them straight there!
Surely these must be the exceptions and not the rule?! Please tell me the HR profession isn’t really populated by people who are not trained, not qualified, not bothered! Am I naïve, delusional even, to expect my fellow HR pros to share my passion for HR, let alone have made a conscious decision to pursue a career in this area and get the development and experience necessary? Yet if we as HR professionals don’t have absolute faith and confidence in the value of what we do and our ability to do it well, we can’t expect anyone else to! We’re just undermining ourselves and our profession, negating our specialist expertise and knowledge, and giving the impression that any old donkey can do our job.
So if you’re an HR person reading this, ask yourself – are you the embodiment of a competent, committed, contented champion of your profession? Or are you letting the side down?
Thankyou for listening! *climbs down from soapbox*
HR, employment law & training consultant for the Not-For-Profit sector
I am a fully qualified HR and training professional with over 18 years’ post-graduate experience. I am a Fellow Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a qualified Specialist Employment Law Paralegal , & a registered...