It would of course make sense to start with the letter A to kick off my A-Z of HR, but me being me, I thought it made sense to start with….H for Human Resources!

Why? I thought I should provide a bit of context around…

  • My own HR journey;
  • How the function has transformed itself over the years; and
  • How we help organisations increase revenue, manage operating costs and mitigate risk.

The 80’s

I’ve been working in HR since 1989 – over 30 years now. It was called Personnel in those days. I started out as a Personnel Administrator working for the Prudential Assurance Company, earning the princely sum of £5,300 per year. I loved that job and to this day, it offered the best benefits of any Company I’ve ever worked for.

I can’t say I remember much about what my role involved (other than HR administration!). I do remember that memos were hand written, letters had to be sent to the typing pool, employee details were held on microfiche, and if we ever needed to give a presentation, we had to handwrite our slides for the overhead projector. How times have changed!

The 90’s

In the 90s I worked for an American owned company as an HR Advisor in the Employee Relations team. It is here I attained Chartered Member IPD (now CIPD) status. HR Advisors were affectionately known as Care Bears.  Yes, we did make time for our people, there was a lot of hand-holding and leading our managers and our doors were always open, but in reality, we were dealing with more complex people and business change issues and becoming more strategic.

Sea change in how the function was regarded only began when Personnel Departments widely rebranded to become known as Human Resources. Another important step forward came with the advent of the business partnering model conceived by Dave Ulrich in the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that I got my first taste of business partnering as Group HR Business Partner for a Lloyds insurance syndicate, and gained my Advanced Certificate in Employment Law.

The Here and Now

As a contractor and consultant, I now see HR operating in many different ways. How evolved HR is in an organisation, is largely determined by the leadership vision and voice HR have in that organisation to effect change.

Picture it as a sliding scale, with HR Managers, Advisors and Administrators at one end and high-tech HR at the other. In the middle you’ll probably find a hybrid of the two.

There are risks associated with operating at either end of the scale. Old school HR departments might be missing out on the opportunity:

  • Technology offers to automate manual processes;
  • Data driven insights offer to add real strategic value.

On the flip side, many HR functions (usually in larger companies), are organised and characterised by shared services, business partners and HR centres of excellence.

These HR functions can become so outcome focused, creating standardised systems and processes to optimise efficiency or gain a financial advantage, they may be losing sight of the beating heart of their operations – their people.

I’m all for technology, data driven insights and the need to measure, but if my time in HR has taught me anything, we can build frameworks and the supporting structures, systems and controls to manage people performance and develop capability, but they need to be designed around more than just profit and efficiencies, and with real people in mind. We’re not all the same; what may drive and motivate some people to bring their best selves into work every day may be different for others, and there will always be times when a nuanced approach will lead to better outcomes.

Moving Forwards

Many HR teams are again reinventing themselves, preferring to be known as the People function. For now though, the name Workaround HR still works for me.

The word resource seems right. The definition of resource is ‘a source or supply from which a benefit is produced’ and people are definitely a resource that businesses utilise for their benefit. As for human, you already know where I stand on that – we may be a business resource, but we need to be treated as the humans we are.

HR may not be able to compete with the known revenue generators in any organisation, valued for bringing in new customers and sales, but what we do, does contribute to the outcome. I’ve had 30 years to join up the dots, seeing HR from a number of different vantage points, but I hope my A-Z opens up the world of HR to you so that you can get a glimpse of what I see too.