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Why Are You in HR?: A Hint -- It Shouldn’t be Just About the People

One of the things I really love in my work as an HR consultant and a recruiting professional specializing in HR is that I get to meet and have lots of discussions with HR professionals. In those discussions I've asked the question: "Why are you in HR?" hundreds of times. People give a myriad of answers but I would categorize them into five general responses (see graph):

Most of the HR professionals respond that they consider themselves “a people person” and only a few say they are in HR because they understand the “inconvenient truth” about business and HR, i.e., HR exists because of business and not the other way around. As HR guru, David Ulrich, aptly put it: “HR must give value or give notice.”

"The challenge is how to fill the HR department with people who can think and act like business people and then accomplish business needs through people solutions."

HR’s Raison D’Être So what’s the right reason for being in HR? Before you answer, consider these arguments:

• People-person: If you think you must be in HR because you are “good with people,” why not pursue a career in sales, marketing, public relations, mass communications or even enter politics? These career options need a lot of people interaction to be successful and your desire to be always with people will surely be satisfied. (Refer to our Kevin Reynolds interview to learn the “6Rs” principle.)

• Service provider: If you want to make people happy, why not consider a career as an entertainer, an idol or a clown? If you want to serve others, you can become a health-care professional, a public servant, volunteer, or a member of the clergy or the military. There is nothing wrong with making people happy or serving others but if you are in HR for this reason, be sure to link back the benefits of making people happy and serving them to your own organization’s bottom line. Think about return on investment, payback period, etc. Show that your efforts are creating value to your organization. Talk with numbers and you will get respect and perhaps your boss will stop asking you to organize year-end parties for your company.

• By accident: This is probably the worst reason to be in HR. It simply means that you are not responsible enough to take care of your own career/destiny and became a bystander in the game of life. Do yourself and your organization a favor and find out what you really want to do. Life is too short to do something that doesn’t bring out the best in you or doesn’t leverage your natural talents. Choose to be in HR by design, not by chance. Do yourself another favor and read this article: “Growing Into Our Potential: Like Bamboo in the Wind,” The HR Agenda, July-Sept. 2013.

• Money: Well, this is a hard necessity in life but how many HR professionals do you know who are filthy rich? If money drives your internal engine, be an investment manager, a broker or an entrepreneur! If HR is the only job you think you can do, you have a narrow and limited understanding of yourself. Every person is born with a set of qualities and natural strengths that can make life truly worth living. Find your life’s mission or calling with the help of a trained coach. Make that investment. After all, it is for you.

• Business-focused: This group of HR professionals gets it. A company or an organization is like an automobile composed of different parts and pieces that need to work together and individually so that the automobile can accomplish its mission: to run and carry passengers. Why do you think sales, marketing, finance, engineering and production are highly-revered functions within the organization? Because people know that they add value to the organization. If HR can truly show that it is adding value just like the other departments, then HR becomes a must-have function in the company. The challenge is how to fill the HR department with people who can think and act like business people and then accomplish business needs through people solutions.

Again, what is the best reason to be in HR? (Click here to participate in a quick poll.) Whatever your answer was in the past, I hope you eventually choose to continue in HR for the right reason of being in that elite pool of professionals who understand that HR’s primary reason for existence is to add value to the business. That value should then naturally flow back to benefit the organization, its people, and the society as a whole. Without this paradigm shift, your reason for being in HR does not really matter because quite frankly, you make yourself irrelevant.

Getting There For those of you who are now interested in becoming a more business-focused HR professional, I highly recommend these recent articles from The HR Agenda magazine. You will take away specific ideas or action steps that you can immediately start implementing:

Of course, there are other great reads within The HR Agenda Magazine and you can subscribe here to gain full access to our current and archived issues.

If you decide to get really into it, why not become a certified HR professional and get noticed?! JHRS and HRCI are doing a joint webinar on HRMP and HRBP certifications on Oct. 9, 21:00 JST. Register here to learn more about these credentials and how you can prepare for the exams.

Also, JHRS is in discussions with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest HR professional organization with more than 250,000 members, and, the world’s largest online HR community with more than 200,000 members, to become strategic partners in delivering HR certification and re-certification programs and courses in Japan.

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