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Reinventing HR from the Classroom to The Boardroom

Ken Hammonds’ Fast Company cover story entitled, “Why We Hate HR” sent shockwaves through the HR community when it was published in 2005. Among the scathing reviews of the current state of HR, Hammonds includes a quote from a local college professor that implied that smart, ambitious new graduates don’t enter the field of HR.  In fact, his exact quote was “The best and the brightest don’t go into HR.” Pretty harsh words, especially for a function that is trying to reinvent itself.

We have all heard that HR needs to be more strategic, that they need to pull up a seat to the “proverbial” table and that they need to be more business-oriented.  However, unless the whole HR community starts investing in educating, certifying, & mentoring junior HR professionals, we will never see the industry gain the respect it deserves and turn the corner. The profession as a whole is failing to look after those will ensure its future success.  If we all take responsibility for the next generation of HR professionals, a ripple effect will be created that can change the face of our profession.  Without sounding too clichéd, the future lies with them. But we need to fix some problems.

The best HR person is the one that understands their company’s business. If this is the case, it needs to start at the student level. To prepare students for the demands of today’s HR professional, all HR bachelor’s programs should include a finance course requirement. A course in business operations would be a good idea, too.  Students who don’t like this or aren’t equipped to handle business classes will ideally be weeded out pre-graduation.  Some would argue that HR should recruit from business programs not HR programs but I feel that this would certainly lead to large scale extinction of HR departments everyone. If HR wishes to be viewed as a real profession and to preserve itself from outsourcing, then there need to be real (albeit better) HR programs preparing students for these roles. 

HR Master’s Programs

Most HR Masters programs make the same mistake that Bachelor’s programs do. They often don’t emphasize core business elements and simply teach HR people to be HR specialists, not business specialists.  This is especially dangerous because most HR people attending masters programs aspire to managerial or higher level responsibilities. With masters diploma in hand they reenter their workforces no better equipped to have deeper strategic impact than they were before they started. Masters degree curriculums need to focus less on traditional HR topics and more on developing human capital, ROI of HR initiatives, HR resource planning, strategy, business statistics, and finance. 

And while we’re at it, I believe all MBA programs need to include an HR requirement. Not doing so simply reinforces to business students (who are future business leaders) that HR is not a real profession or that it is not an integral part of business operations.  HR deserves a seat at the table of MBA courses.

HR On-Going Education & Certifications

Examining the current state of HR requires looking at the resources that are available for current HR practitioners to expand their skill sets. The PHR and SPHR are the most well-known industry certifications. HR has long been accused of living in its own world and being uninterested in the larger business. Regrettably, I believe that the PHR and SPHR simply encourage the perception that HR is not business oriented and is more focused on process than on impact. The weight that the PHR and SPHR actually carry in the business world is little to none. I have never known a CEO who placed any sort of significance on those certifications. In short, these designations may strengthen one’s understanding of tactical HR issues but they will rarely distinguish someone in the eyes of a CEO or other company stakeholders.

HR needs to listen to what its business leaders want and provide professional certifications to meet these needs.  Certifications in organizational development, process design, training and development, or career development are places to start.  These certifications will expand and evolve an HR practitioner’s skill set and enable them to add more value.

Junior HR Talent in the Workforce

I believe that despite the current state of HR educational and professional programs, there are still some bright, creative and ambitious new grads entering the field of HR (although not as many as we would like).  I just don’t think they stay.  Bogged down by administration, managed by uninspiring leaders, and often just plain bored, they leave the profession early on to pursue other fields.  So, how do we get these young workers to stay in HR instead of transitioning to other careers?  We know the answer to that – or at least we should.  If HR is supposed to nurture the talent of an organization – then how come we do such a poor job of nurturing and retaining our own?

I am not suggesting that junior level HR employees be exempt from the often inescapable administration that every HR department has to comply with.  But, we need to do a better job of identifying the very best junior HR people and then “exploiting” their talent by allowing them increasing sets of responsibility and visibility within the organization. Internal customers want partners who are creative and passionate advisors that they can turn to with their most important concerns about their departments. Junior HR professionals who evidence some of these skills at an early age should be developed aggressively.

If business is demanding more and different things from today’s HR professionals, then the entire industry needs to radically change how it prepares people for the profession. This begins at the bachelor’s degree level but continues throughout post-baccalaureate education into entry level HR jobs.  We should all take ownership of helping the next generation of HR practitioners transform the profession and their role in it.  The time is now, the stakes are high, and we owe it to them.

By: Gina McClowry

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