HR Is One of the Most Important Functions in an Organization

So why has no one received the memo?

I’ll be up front with you. My second career is in HR. In the 1980s, I started out as a polymer scientist. I got interested in that era’s Quality movement as a member of my cohort. My mentors were Juran, Demming, and Crosby, and I concentrated on quality circles, statistical process control, and participative management. My technical coworkers chose the analytics route, but I was captivated by the social and group psychology of both healthy and unhealthy organizations. I made the decision to leave the field of engineering, chemistry, and science and move into the field of social sciences, specifically industrial/organizational psychology. I have worked in human resources for 20 years now, and during that time I have formed strong opinions about the field and the difficulties it will face in the future.

I heard a renowned professor of human resources talk in the late 1980s about the direction and significance of HR. According to what I recall of the lecture’s primary topics, all firms would eventually have access to the same equipment, programs, and systems in order to compete in the market. How successful firms acquire, manage, and reward their talent will set them apart from the competitors. The key differentiator in the future will be talent, and HR will be at the heart of this new transition. I still hold that idea to be true today as I did then. I have seen several firms adopt this idea and develop a solid, vibrant workforce. But in the vast majority of others, HR stays stuck in neutral.

HR as a profession is an enigma. The roles, titles, and functions are varied, as is the talent that occupies these jobs. But one issue is clear. HR as a profession must adapt, and adapt quickly to the changing landscape of the modern corporation. Globalization, automation, technology integration, and organizational transformation are now the norm. The HR professional needs to not only understand these concepts, but internalize them as second nature. More and more organizations are looking to HR to provide innovative people solutions for the dynamism of today’s business environment.

HR Is One of the Most Important Functions in an Organization

I believe we need to confront the several issues which are holding us back as a profession and get serious about forcing change

Issue #1

Stop nepotism hires to HR

The children of executives, the college coaches’ daughter, the governors’ son. Stories abound about the kids of privilege with the appropriate political or family connections and possess the #1 HR attribute: “they like people and have a good personality”. In my first career, all my peers had to pass courses in physical chemistry, differential equations, and analytics to get that Chemistry or Chemical Engineering Degree that was a prerequisite to be hired. The HR professional of today needs the same kind of rigor in business, psychology, analytics and technology that the sciences demand in their respective coursework. Plus, a multidisciplinary background with varied life and career experience, is critical for success.

Issue #2

How about some diversity in HR?

I am amazed by the male/female ratio in the crowds at SHRM conferences and HR meetings. Isn’t it time to reach out and attract more men to our profession and fully address the reasons for the imbalance! Anecdotally, it appears to me men are more prevalent in the HR vendor space. Why is that?

Issue #3

Hierarchical Leadership Environment

I have seen this cultural artifact in several organizations. Status and political considerations are primary and create a pecking order in the formation of organizational relationships, communication networks, and basic interaction. This behavior is career suicidal. Never before in history has change in business happened so quickly. Many 20+ year career HR professionals lack the innate knowledge of this evolving technical world. This has created a profession of functionally illiterate leaders, and this is costing organizations dearly.

Abandon hierarchical leadership behaviors and engage the new generation. The millennial employees your organization is hiring today grew up immersed in the Internet, Social Media, and the mobile age. Open yourself to learning from them. The reality is you need them as much as they need you to build a successful organization.

Issue #4

HR Graduate Culture

I may be biased, but the best HR organizations I have seen typically welcome talent with a multidisciplinary background and work experience. Top talent from the business are also welcomed for a stint in HR. The key is to create a dynamic learning environment of varied knowledge, skills, and ability. So why do some organizations focus on hiring graduates from the same degree programs year after year? That may be prudent strategy for technical positions, but limiting in creating a dynamic HR environment.

Most of us hate change. Our natural inclination as human beings is to resist new and different and surround ourselves with the people, processes, and environment that fits our background. Organizations must take proactive steps that keep individuals learning and growing. This is necessary for most occupations, but highly critical for HR professionals.

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Ray Schreyer

Ray Schreyer is a 20 yr. veteran of the online recruiting industry and author of “The Employers Guide to Recruiting on the Internet”. He is Past President and co-founder of the DirectEmployers Association, a major force behind the .jobs Top Level Domain, and a senior leader in IBM Global Recruiting. Connect with Ray.

Reader Interactions


  1. Tom Bolt says

    Ray, you are spot on! The reason that nobody received that memo is because nobody ever wrote it! HR is only empowered to do as much as executive management allows them to do and many of them have not yet learned of the value of management of one of the most critical resources the company has… the employees. I won’t rant on the multiple bad experiences I’ve seen, but it would probably start with the “referral” of a candidate for HR Generalist because “she has a great personality and is easy to talk to.” You can probably guess some of the similar stories.

    If we don’t like the way our profession has been degraded, we need to point the finger of blame at least partially at ourselves. We are not only experienced professionals, we are also missionaries for our cause. If we don’t prove our worth and publicize successes nobody will know. It is also too easy to lapse into the touchy-feely camp or becoming known as the policy cops. Mamma always said nobody likes softies and tattletales. We are better than that!

    Change starts with us and within us.

  2. Grace says

    Hi Mr.Ray!

    A good team of professionals always build with the help of Human Resources and Recruitment is the major work in the HR team. You gathered nice points in the article mainly ‘Hierarchical Leadership Environment’. Leadership is not a definite duty or task, somewhat it is a way of thinking, learning and doing.

    Thank you for sharing the importance of HR and really make great impact of organizations who want to success in the businesses.


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