Last week I’ve had the chance to give a short presentation to a class of students of the MSc in Management of Human Resources of the University of Milan, invited by prof. Luca Solari. I always find it very refreshing to sit with young students and interact, also to grasp their views on the topic. I’ve illustrated my “eclectic” journey into Human Resources, and a few glimpses onto my career. Unfortunately I could not be present in person in Milan, so I had to deliver my presentation online. So I decided to build a bit of interaction with two quick polls using Mentimeter.
The role of Human Resources
I posed two questions to the audience. The first stemming from a consideration on Ulrich’s model, and the four roles for HR professionals identified by Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank in their milestone book The HR Value Proposition.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about Ulrich’s work, is the idea that HR should be focused entirely on Strategic Partnering (thus the abused job title of HR Business Partner, which I often find a damaging title for many HR professionals).
I’ve been to endless conferences where colleagues debated how to get a set at the table, and tried to position themselves only in that upper left quadrant of the model.
I gave the students the option to pick up to two choices of the four, and what I got, as result, somehow surprised me.
41% identified the preferred role as Strategic Partner, 26% as Change Agent, 20% as Admin Expert and 14% as Employee Champion.
I’ve mentioned already a few times, and also written a post last year out of a similar event, that the role of the HR Business Partner needs to be a “mix” of all of these aspects. I have also written before the need to focus on Admin and Payroll as a required baseline to ensure any HR activity is perceived as of value.
The focus of Human Resources
A second question was on the focus of Human Resources. A simple, binary poll asking students to opt for “talent” or “culture”.
I chose this question to point to a significant cleavage that affects HR professionals across, and the apparent opposition of these two focus areas. On one side the individual talent, on the other the organization, represented by its culture.
Also in this case I was happy to see the results. I’m not saying that Talent should not be an HR priority or focus area, but when choosing, we always have to think in terms of organizational context.
I’ve seen to often the shortcomings of focusing too much on the individuals. High potentials who have stayed potentials for their entire career, development programs made for the few, that were worn as badge of honor, discriminating the rest of the working population.
A world of opposing views.
It’s refreshing top see young students that approach the Human Resources profession to have already grasped many elements of the meaning of what Human Resources should stand for. As you know, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that HR should be as invisible (yet needed) as electricity. Yet, I’ve also constantly been battling to give HR a renewed meaning, focusing more on the Human side of it rather than the resources piece. How does this related, then, to what I just wrote about focusing more on culture then on the individual?
It’s a matter of context. We need to focus on work that HR does within and organization to support individuals to grow and culture to stay coherent. I had already tried to single this out in the concept of HR’s “caring” role that I had tried to illustrate in the following image.
There is no paradox in caring for the person while focusing on the organization, if we are able to take care of all the C’s of the Theory of Caring.
And you? What do you think should HR stand for today?