The Craft of Human Resources
I’ve had the opportunity to study talent management, training, and human resources for more than fifteen years now. And after talking with literally hundreds of companies, leaders, and specialists, I’ve come to a simple conclusion.
HR is not really a profession, HR is a “craft.”
It is something we do carefully by hand, with great love and affection, with the goal of creating something beautiful.
Think for a minute about what craftsmen do in the construction industry. Cabinet makers build beautiful cabinets. Electricians design and build beautiful lighting, power, and heating systems. Plumbers build excellent, efficient plumbing systems. Sheetrockers built beautiful walls.
When we rebuilt our house we had more than 10 different craftsmen come in to do special jobs. Each had their own special expertise and none could possibly do what the others did. The result was a beautiful, well working home.
Of course none of this is possible without the help of an Architect. The architect looks at the house or building as a whole, and he or she sees the big picture. The Architect makes sure that the house flows well, the kitchen is useful, and the outside house is attractive and fits into the neighborhood.
Craftsmen hone and develop their craft. They get better and better at it every year.
Likewise do HR professionals.
A recent survey by Bloomberg BNA found that 66% of HR organizations have at least one specialist on staff, up from 47% in 2003. This is no surprise: hr roles and capabilities have become far more complex and important over the last five years.
Consider the research we uncovered in our 2012 High-Impact HR and Learning research:
- Staffing and recruiting professionals now have hundreds of new tools, technologies, and solutions to draw upon. Systems like LinkedIn, social sourcing tools, new assessment tools, workforce databases, search tools, and other BigData offerings are totally changing the nature of sourcing and recruiting. They must understand marketing, employment branding, social networking, and work more closely with corporate marketing than ever before.
- Training and OD professionals have completely reinvented themselves over the last five years, now focusing on informal learning, social learning, mobile and gaming solutions, video, and a variety of new models for knowledge management. The training professional of ten years ago would hardly recognize L&D today.
- Leadership development professionals now need to understand global cultures, the emergence of flattened organizations and agile leadership, new tools for assessment, and the changing nature of leadership among GenX and GenY professionals.
- Employee relations and HR generalists must understand the role of diversity and inclusion programs, the nature of a highly diverse (in many dimensions), how to motivate workers in different countries, and how to manage and motivate workers during a global economic recovery.
- Talent management leaders must understand how to re-engineer performance management, goal setting, coaching, and succession practices in today’s agile, global, highly flattened organizations. They must learn about all the new talent management tools available to them and start to make sense of talent segmentation and analytics.
- HR technologists have to maintain their skills and learn about cloud computing systems, next-generation HR and paryoll systems, new systems for social recognition and rewards, and new technologies for collaboration, employee profiles, social learning, social recruiting, and BigData analytics.
- HR executives must stay aware of all these topics and stay close to the business, become keenly aware of global business and cultural trends, and understand how innovative new HR solutions can transform their own businesses as they recover from the global slowdown.
If you aren’t keeping up with these various changes you’re becoming more irrelevant each day. And that’s why I call HR a “craft.”
The Future of the Professions:
If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend you read Richard Susskind’s book “The Future of Professions.” He makes a very compelling argument that professionals like doctors, lawyers, CPA’s, and other “certified” jobs are transitory in nature. We give them professional priveliges (only doctors can prescribe drugs, for example) because we, as individuals, just don’t have the time or energy to learn what they know. Thus they become priveliged to charge for their services and maintain barriers to entry.
In today’s world of open information (we can all look up information on WebMd and read it), these professions are being disrupted, and their earnings are going down. Lawyers, for example, are being slowly replaced by AI, and we’ve all read about tools like IBM Watson diagnosing disease at high levels of accuracy.
HR, which has its own professional credentials (SHRM or HRCI certification, for example), could be considered one of these – but I think an even better direction is to just realize that no amount of certification or training and substitute for experience. So to me, considering HR a craft gives it far more value in the market.
Our High-Impact HR research, conducted in 2013 and 2014, proves statistically that the more specialized and experienced HR professionals are, the greater value they deliver. That proves the point.
For you who are HR professionals, remember: craftsmen are always looking at new tools, studying what worked in their last job, and continuously improving their trade. We must always find ways to improve our craft, as business and management practices continue to change.