No, this is not a Halloween inspired post, there are more than enough HR ghoul posts about tonight without me adding to them. Today’s post is about the “old lady in HR”, it needn’t be sexist though. It could equally have been called “the old man in HR.”
I’m quite old. 47 in fact. I was thinking the other day about the interactions I have had with HR depts over the years. In the beginning of my career, we never had human resources. I was reminded of this when I first starting working. In those days it wasn’t an HR dept, it was a Personnel Manager. Personnel was where you went when you had a problem with either payroll, or a personal ailment that you didn’t want to discuss with your line manager or colleagues.Th role of the personnel lady was part administrator and part mother. When I first became a manager they were the person you went too if you didn’t want to tell your staff something personal like them smelling of BO and needing a good wash, personnel was great for that. They were also great to direct unwanted calls to, like agency recruiters because they were good at being blockers, and could be relied on not to make a decision.

This was a good many years ago, and HR departments for the most part have evolved from Personnel to HR. HR was a bit different, with wider ranging responsibility and influence over the business, and more specialist roles like learning and development, performance management and the like. This was the time I came in to the HR realm. I’d always been a recruiter setting up new desks, opening new offices and building new teams. I built a training division to train all the new recruits who joined the business throughout their career with us, I set up and ran assessment centers and managed all the recruiting activity, things like that. We did quite a lot of this because we grew from 6 branches to 167 in 12 years. Pretty rapid, very demanding. I introduced a performance management system linked to appraisals, reward and recognition to bring structure to the way we were growing. In the last few years, after some expensive learning experiences, I took on the responsibility for conducting disciplinary investigations and mopping up messes, attending more than a few industrial tribunals to represent the company. The strange thing is that I never once thought of myself as an HR person, always as a recruiter. The business also thought of me as a recruiter doing some HR stuff, and this really helped me to get things done because I was one of them. I was different to everything they thought an HR person was. They still had this picture of the old lady in HR.

HR has moved on again now to Talent Management. An even more comprehensive and strategic role. What I’m puzzled about though is when I speak to people about the role of HR in business, and I get the distinct impression that people are still thinking in terms of that old lady in HR. I still occasionally meet the odd personnel lady (or man), masquerading as HR, like the two I met recently who were selecting C++ programmers to interview on the strength of the spelling and presentation of their cover letters and CV (They still exist!). The majority of HR professionals I meet are quite the opposite though. Working as an integral part of the business with specialist functions and lots of expert knowledge. You can read about China Gorman’s presentation from the KellyOCG #TSS event HERE that explains this model in more detail.

Some of the discussions I have with others about Talent Management (the new HR), makes me think I’m still talking about the old lady in HR. That is why in house recruiters fight hard to say they are not an HR function, when clearly they are. That the DNA is different. You know the argument.

The reality is that I know very few “old ladies/men” of HR. In the age of Talent Management, or Human Capital Management, or whatever title is being used these days.  Part of this problem is that people don’t really know what the role of HR is anymore, because it is constantly evolving, and the folks from HR are quite insular in who they hang out with, preferring the company of other HR folk to more open communities. HR folks need to get out a bit more away from the usual cliquemunities in the HR space and start sharing a bit more about the work they do.The solution for me is more talk around brand HR, and less thinking by those out of HR about that old lady from the Personnel days. Things have moved on, and those in this space need to be more public about that, and stop looking for safety in numbers.

What do you think?

Bill