HR Leadership Column on HR's Value

Every professional group deals with its own problems of perception, from engineers to CIOs to HR leaders. But it's important to pause, take a breath and remember how much the HR function does that makes a positive difference in employees' lives.

Monday, January 21, 2013
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Sometimes, I think the whole HR profession needs therapy.  

There's just so much wringing of hands and worrying about how the profession is perceived. Worrying that the role isn't really appreciated. Worrying about how to demonstrate that the profession adds value. Worrying about how to garner respect. Worrying about columns in magazines with titles such as "Why I Hate HR." 

Well folks, I'll let you in on a little secret: HR isn't alone.Most professions worry about these same things. A quick Google search discloses some examples.

The Urban Dictionary defines "accountant" as an "extremely dull person, devoid of all personality."

Or how about an article entitled "CIOs Don't Get a Seat at the Top Table: Study," reporting that "less than half (48 percent) of C-suite executives think the standing of CIOs has improved in recent years ... ?" 

Or there's  "How can B2B marketers get a seat at the table?" reporting that "marketing performs for the table like a jester at a banquet."

And we can't leave out engineers: "Are We Really the Rodney 'No Respect' Dangerfield of Professions?" reporting that engineers "though labeled trustworthy by the public, get virtually no respect or recognition for what [they] do."

I won't even mention lawyers or members of Congress.

All professions strive to improve and enhance their images. I think having aspirations to improve is part of what it means to be a professional.

In fairness, the self-doubt and worry may be more pronounced in the HR profession, but it's probably a by-product of being at the center of action during the bull and bear markets of employment. HR professionals know that people who haven't developed themselves professionally and lose their job have fewer options. HR brings new talent on board and sees firsthand that candidates who have kept up professionally are most likely to be hired.

While I think it's important to continuously learn and develop professionally -- after all, that's what most of my columns are about -- I think it's equally important to pause, take a deep breath and reflect on how far the profession has come; and, more importantly, how much of what you do, every day, makes a difference -- a positive difference -- in other peoples' lives.

You're part of a profession that has changed how business is done. You're part of a profession that has helped make workplaces safer, healthier and more humane.

You've helped employees as they struggle to manage their work lives and their family lives, either through policy development and implementation or direct intervention.

You've helped people develop themselves professionally, providing them training and growth opportunities, along with stretch assignments. You've even advocated for their promotions.

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You've helped people have greater financial security, taking steps to be sure they are paid fairly and properly, have health benefits, and have an avenue to save and plan for their retirement.

Consider this: Every HR professional reading this column has done something in the past week that will positively impact someone's work experience. It may be something as small as a word of encouragement, or a quiet coaching stint around an employee-relations issue. It may be something as large as presenting an offer letter to a new executive, tailored to what the candidate sought and the company can afford. It is part of the normal, day-to-day activities of HR professionals to improve the work lives of their workforce.  Sometimes, it's easy to ignore what's right in front of us.

So instead of suggesting a New Year's resolution for the coming year, I'm suggesting something different.

Put an empty jar in your office. This year, every time you help an employee in some way, put a note in the jar.  

As you watch the jar fill up -- and it certainly will -- remind yourself that, for every criticism leveled against the HR profession, there are many, many things that the profession is doing well and doing right.

Remember that you're in a function to be proud of, adding value to people's lives and the organizations they work in, every day.

The HR profession doesn't need therapy.  It needs to applaud itself.

Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.


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