As I have mentioned before, HR is my second career. My first was that of a polymer chemist where I spent my days working with chemical engineers, chemists, and other technical individuals at companies such as Unocal, BASF, and Union Carbide. I have quite a unique perspective on how a career in HR compares to a scientific career and I will be the first to say polymer chemistry is easy, since there are physical laws in place. HR on the other hand deals with people and we all know what can arise from that. So here we go, let me lay it all out and mention my list for the good, the bad, and the ugly as an HR professional.
The Good, Bad, and Ugly of the HR Profession
- Friendly colleagues
- Ability to make a real difference in people’s lives
- Extremely interesting work
- This is the place to be to make a difference in organizations
- In today’s marketplace, organizations have access to the same tools, technologies, and processes. The key differentiator is how they manage their people. HR is poised to grow in importance and prestige.
- HR still not valued by many organizations
- HR rampant with nepotism, and political hires
- HR stifled by compliance mindset
- Lacking appropriate male / female diversity balance
- Pay not in line with other professions
- In the last 10 – 20 years, corporate America has gradually shifted away from a mindset of representing the interests of all corporate stakeholders (investors, employees, government, customers, society) to representing just one interest: the price of the company stock. This has created enormous implications for HR professionals who are tasked with carrying out the tactics and strategies to boost quarterly profits. It is amazing how ethics and integrity fly out the window when dollars are on the table.
- Firing / laying off employees is never fun and can be the most gut wrenching job you ever have to undertake, especially in today’s environment where jobs are scarce.
To navigate these waters I keep coming back to several books that have helped me keep my sanity and point the way over the past 2 decades. Here are my top 5 books to help develop your HR profession:
Buck Up, Suck Up… and Come Back When You Foul Up
by James Carville and Paul Begala
This book is valuable in understanding how to win in the political big leagues. Machiavelli and Sun-tzu would be proud!
First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman T
His text describes the research at Gallup that defines what the world’s greatest managers do differently.
Social Psychology by Roger Brown
Author explains social psychology research via the atrocities of Nazi Germany… very riveting text.
Who Really Matters by Art Kleiner
This is the tomb that tells the truth about how organizations really work and the reality can be quite painful. Not recommend for idealistic neophytes.
Competence at Work by Lyle Spencer & Signe Spencer
The bible of competency modelling and how to do it correctly.
Personally I have found a career in HR to be quite rewarding. I like being at the center of an enterprise and in on the strategy, decisions, and directions being discussed and directed. Sure, there are days I wish I was back in the lab and relatively free of stress, but then I would not have had such a wild ride working with some of the best leaders in corporate America and helping define and launch the online recruiting industry.