I can be quite critical of HR, but it’s only because I really like HR. I see what it can be and get frustrated when it’s not. HR on a good day contributes heavily to great business, to competitive advantage, to a workplace where people can perform at their best. HR is not why the company exists, but it enables the company to do what it does best. Good HR moves things forward; bad HR gets in the way.
I have a personal mission to help people be at their best – that’s why I’m in HR. But why should you be in HR? Why should anyone choose HR as a career? Hmmmm, good question. Some thoughts:
If you have both people and business skills you can be a superstar. HR needs people who can understand, translate, and communicate between the impersonal numbers side of business and the intensely personal human side. Even the coldest, sterilest, most numbers driven work gets done through humans with all their squishy, emotional, irrationality. Understand and communicate to both and you’re a hero.
Influence the entire organization. HR plays a large role in developing the culture (and is also a reflection of the culture that’s been created). It’s pretty cool to help shape a company.
Know what’s going on. IF (big if) you can keep your mouth shut and keep things confidential, you will learn far more than you ever wanted to know about your co-workers and all the scandals kept on the downlow.
Get a big picture view. Even if you don’t want to stay in HR forever, a couple of years will give you a very big picture view of how the organization fits together, who does what, how information flows, and who the real power players are. That’s invaluable info for any rising leader.
Gain exposure. HR is one of the few departments that actively interacts with leaders in every other area. Even the admins in HR have more exposure to leadership than the high potentials in more isolated areas. The exposure and networking can be a huge advantage (just avoid making enemies).
Food. There is always food in HR. My six year old son told me that he wanted a job just like mine. In moments like this I’ve learned to ask “why?” before getting all misty eyed. He said, “Because you always get to have cake.”
Party central. HR often bristles at the idea of being the ones who have to organize the company picnics and Christmas parties. Yes, if that’s all you’re being asked to do by senior leadership then you’re in a very marginal HR department. However, HR really is in position and generally has the people skills to throw great parties. What better way to reach people and influence the culture? If the HR department is already supporting competitive advantage and helping the business kick capitalist booty why not lead the charge to celebrate it? (Do you really want accounting heading up the next party?)
Helping others. Everything else aside, it’s pretty cool to be in a position to help others. People tend to come to HR when their lives are at their best and worst moments and without getting all clichéd and sappy, it is a tremendous privilege to be able to celebrate with them or help them with their transition.
HR isn’t always fun, but it’s a place I enjoy. That’s why I want it to be the field I know it can be.
[This was originally posted on December 11, 2011. It seemed like a good day to revisit it.]