Never Get Lost Again: Navigating Your HR Career

Never Get Lost Again: Navigating Your HR Career

by Phyllis G. Hartman

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Aimed at experienced human resource professionals, this invaluable handbook provides practical advice customized for those who wish to strategically develop their careers. This manual not only addresses how to avoid common pitfalls, but also offers counseling from successful HR practitioners and business leaders. Networking tools, “must-have” skills,


Aimed at experienced human resource professionals, this invaluable handbook provides practical advice customized for those who wish to strategically develop their careers. This manual not only addresses how to avoid common pitfalls, but also offers counseling from successful HR practitioners and business leaders. Networking tools, “must-have” skills, and mentor relationships are also discussed. The useful information outlined in this guide seamlessly transitions the HR professional into the coveted senior management position.

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From the Publisher

"Developing the legitimate ability to speak the language of business should be generously inserted into the development plan of anyone who plans to walk the career path 'less traveled' by their HR peers."  —Paul D. Gibson, executive vice president & chief human resource officer, Mattamy Homes

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Society For Human Resource Management
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New Edition
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

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Never Get Lost Again

Navigating Your HR Career

By Nancy E. Glube, Phyllis G. Hartman

Society For Human Resource Management

Copyright © 2009 Nancy E. Glube and Phyllis G. Hartman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-58644-290-3


The Shoemaker's Children Travel Barefoot

Kevin has been an entry-level HR generalist in a service organization for about three years. He enjoys what he is doing and has made a commitment to Human Resources as a career. While he enjoys his work, he senses differences between himself and his counterparts in other functional groups. Sometimes he feels a bit uncomfortable in their presence and senses the feeling might be mutual. Their departments seem to have more financial latitude and employees there seem to get ahead faster. Kevin is about to plan his next career step. What does he need to understand about the evolution of Human Resources in order to do this?

How Is Human Resources Different?

Professionals in sales, marketing, operations, IT, finance, and other corporate groups receive direction and guidance on how to steer their careers partly as a result of corporate programs, which are established by their employers and implemented by their supervisors and the HR professionals who service them. In addition to formal career development and mentoring programs, informal networks sprung up in their organizations that provided the rudder to keep their careers on course.

In many cases, these clients would reach out to us for advice as they hit certain career benchmarks or experienced career issues. In addition to responding to their requests, as dedicated HR professionals, we proactively monitored the careers of these individuals to ensure that they received the proper training and development, and consideration for promotions or other jobs which would advance their careers. We also ensured that they were well represented in terms of race and gender. When disappointments in their careers had to be faced, and when they didn't get the nod for a coveted position, we provided the safety net and the perspective to help them recover and continue to "fight the (career) fight."

However, while the HR professionals were cheerleading their clients on to greater heights, who was guiding Human Resources? This is not to say that HR functions conceptually don't want to groom and develop their own, or shouldn't take on the accountability to do so. While the motivation is there in many cases (under the best of circumstances), how often does it happen? As HR professionals, we are often so busy helping others — because that is our self -image and the perceived expectation — that our own careers often take a back seat.

This is the classic example of the shoemaker's children having no shoes. To explore the origins of this situation, how would you respond to the following questions?

• If organizations are going to look to Human Resources to provide career guidance and direction to their employees, shouldn't we "set the standard" by practicing it ourselves?

• How can we drive career development programs for others when our own house is not in order?

• If we do not practice these techniques for our own careers, are we providing the best advice and counsel to our clients?

• Does Human Resources deserve the same career focus as the clients it serves?

• Do the universal concerns about retaining the "best and the brightest" and building a career pipeline not apply to the HR community?

• Why is Human Resources an attraction for so many?

Mike D'Ambrose, senior vice president of Human Resources at Archer Daniels Midland, sums it up nicely:

The true gift of HR is its ability to inspire people to believe in themselves; to passionately seek the gold in every single person; and help each person find, develop and celebrate that gold. Every single person has something unique and wonderful to contribute. It is my job to ask our people, 'what are the things that you do great? How do we help you become this wonderful, unique contributor — not only to the company but also to yourself?1

The Evolution of Human Resources

The differences in perspective can be explained by examining the history of Human Resources and the psyche of the practitioners who serve in the field.

Deserving a Seat at the Table

Since the early 1990s, Human Resources has been coming into its own as a respected area of responsibility in the business world. Business leaders recognize that Human Resources' diligent attention to legal and regulatory compliance, implementation of talent assessment and development programs, focus on retention, and workforce planning are just a few of the contributions to the bottom line. In the contemporary environment of continuous organizational change as a result of reorganizations, downsizing, mergers, and acquisitions, Human Resources has earned its seat at the table because the value of human capital is being recognized. A "seat at the table" means that the HR role has been accepted as a key decision-maker for the organization along with all the other traditional functions in the organization. In the war for talent, Human Resources has made a real contribution as a differentiator between companies, especially when considering challenges around retaining key employees and engaging the rank and file. Specialists from a variety of fields are called in to negotiate difficult labor situations, to plan for offshore employment needs, and to understand and manage through cultural differences. HR professionals are moving on to assume opportunities in line positions because they are respected for their business knowledge and expertise.

The Value of Human Resources

A Challenging Evolution

Human Resources has not always garnered the respect it has today. Furthermore, in some scenarios, there are still "growing pains" to be worked out. Some companies still don't understand the value that Human Resources brings to the organization. Some independent business owners perceive Human Resources as a necessary evil, an administrative cost which causes them to give up the reins of power and presents roadblocks to how they want to manage their businesses.

Human Resources had typically been the "catch all" function for duties and individuals for whom you couldn't find a logical place in an organization. Typically, people who were placed in Human Resources had been unsuccessful in other roles, floundering in their careers, and may have had substandard performance. For example, one of the authors of this book assumed a Human Resources Director role where the incumbent had been in the job for more than 20 years. The job was available because he retired. The retiree had first joined the company when Human Resources was starting to take shape as a profession. While we found the incumbent well liked and highly regarded by the employees, the department was in shambles. It turned out that the popularity he enjoyed was because he rarely took a stand. The few policies that existed were not enforced, and there was no accountability. They had an active relocation program at the time, but home appraisals were accepted from people with improper credentials. In some cases, the appraisals came from the relatives of the employees who were relocating! This situation was allowed to go on for years. When the president of the division assumed his role, he identified the problem issues and acted on changing out the incumbent. It took years for the new HR person to re-educate the employee population and rebuild the credibility of the HR function.

From Personnel to Human Resources

Even "Human Resources" is a relatively new term, replacing what used to be called "Personnel." "Human Resources" is now beginning to migrate to "Human Capital" or "Human Assets" or "Talent Management." Heads of Human Resources are now referred to as Chief People Officers (CPOs) or Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs). Organizations have learned the value of Human Resources as the objective voice making financial, but, more importantly, strategic recommendations to the organizations they serve. HR departments have made progress in being able to quantify their accomplishments and show their value to the bottom line.

Successful organizations include the HR voice in the key decision -making process and have understood business set backs or reversals as a result of not doing so. Human Resources has grown to be the protector of an organization's legal risk.

Companies have had some tough HR lessons to learn. In the 1980s, Publix Supermarkets settled a multi-million-dollar lawsuit as a result of hiring inequities in their supervisory ranks. Nordstrom's department stores suffered litigation as a result of wage and hour violations pertaining to the overtime of their sales personnel. More recently, Microsoft was cited for improperly categorizing independent contractors and not putting these contractors on the payroll with benefits. These issues result in big headlines and big dollars, and companies have come to realize that Human Resources can help prevent them.

For some time, "Personnel" was a group charged with completing a set of loosely organized clerical functions that had to get done but were not viewed as strategically important. Other examples of classic "Personnel" functions include keeping logs of who came on or off the payroll, tabulating health insurance benefits enrollments and costs, planning company social events, and so on. These roles were largely held by female clerical workers, who tended to be detailed and responsive.

In many cases, "Personnel" was connected in some way to payroll functions and provided timekeeping or recordkeeping services. In some situations, "Personnel" was the same group of people who prepared the payroll. Later, when conflicts of interest were better understood between payroll and "Personnel," the payroll area was removed to operate separately, under different management. During this evolution, it was common for "Personnel" to report to a chief accountant, controller, or CFO. Executives who held the financial reins had the power to dictate to "Personnel" what to do and when. They held the reins to the budget expenditures, for example, and they often controlled health and welfare costs. If sales were down, and expenses were up, the finance or accounting department would tell "Personnel" that some sacrifices were needed. This was another way of calling for a decrease in headcount, or "downsizing," as it is called today. If the decisions were being made only on this basis of financial considerations, there was often a lack of objectivity and consistency. These decisions were often made in isolation, and often without consideration for their impact on other HR consequences (for example, on employee relations or retention).

Understanding the Past to Reinvent the Present

Why is understanding this evolution and history of Human Resources important to the role of Human Resources today? And how does it relate to the focus of a guidebook on the career development of HR practitioners? The answer is based on history: Human Resources comes with some baggage that needs to be understood before considering why HR folks have different development needs. Although now that Human Resources has largely earned the "seat at the table," not everyone understands the role Human Resources should be playing there. While Human Resources is highly engaged in the strategy and operations of the business enterprise, there is still some "catching up" to do.

Human Resources in a "Defensive" Posture

Despite its many contributions to the organization, HR professionals will always have to defend their position as a nonrevenue-generating body, as well as realize that they do not have the same clout as other business groups. We do want to give credit to those HR organizations that have developed profit centers through the sales and marketing of HR software products, training programs, earning tax credits, etc. We do note, however, that they are in the minority, take time to establish, and can divert attention away from the work of supporting the business.

While improvement can be noted around the "tail wagging the dog" and finance people dictating where cost cutting will come from on issues relating to human assets, in the face of a financial downturn in the organizations they service, HR resources and budgets have been and will likely continue to be the first to come under scrutiny.

In recent years, many organizations have outsourced routine HR functions previously performed in-house. Assuming these initiatives work properly and do cut costs, these steps have been helpful in shoring up Human Resources' credibility in the organization and earning respect for its business-like, bottomline orientation. The other advantage is that making these moves has allowed the HR organization to focus on more strategic areas of the business where they provide higher value.

HR Orphans

While Human Resources has made considerable progress in developing clout and respect within the organization, all is not equal in the organizations they serve. We have experienced discussions where some kind of decision or consideration is made affecting all of the functions in the organization. It might be about making additions to the compensation plan or adding functionality to the Talent Management program. If it involves enhancements, more often than not Human Resources is overlooked in the discussion. If, on the other hand, it is about takeaways such as headcount cuts, then Human Resources is typically near the top of the list.

Also, how many times do our clients say, "You are HR. You are different"? While there may be a factual basis to this statement — because at times Human Resources does not fit the mold based on its unique role — the comment can be delivered in a negative way. In addition, when seen as keeper of the company policies and processes, Human Resources sometimes has been tagged as being the "police" or a "traffic cop." We can recall many instances where the conversation in the room would come to a halt when the HR contact enters.

Sometimes this "police label" is legitimate because, at times, we don't do a good job of "thinking out of the box." We tend to stick to the letter of the law rather than providing creative or new ways to apply a policy or work a business solution.

• What about the case of the star performer who has maxed out in the salary grade? Do we find a creative solution to retain him in the company or do we push back saying, "We've never done that before"?

• Then there is the unhappy client who can't find a suitable candidate for a critical position. While our budget does not allow for executive recruiters, do we find another way to source for the position?

• Finally, there is the case of the employee whose spouse is gravely ill, and, due to a computer glitch, has been denied insurance coverage. If the service center is closed for the day, do we tell him that tomorrow is another day, or do we pull out all the stops to make it happen today?

We can be rightfully accused of being risk-adverse and buried in the weeds instead of focusing more on strategy. In defense of the mid -level HR practitioner, they may not have the authority to loosely interpret policies or to apply untested solutions. However, they do have the ability to escalate or recommend to someone who does; they should look for opportunities where this "broker role" can be further developed.

Other Repercussions

Based on how the HR role can be perceived as "second-class citizen" status, sometimes there is additional negative fallout. Higher salaries, better benefits and other perks are often more generously applied to other departments, and Human Resources may not qualify. The irony is that the HR function has developed these programs to help the company stay profitable, competitive, and attract the top talent, and yet, at times, HR folks do not personally benefit. Typically, HR people do not get the same opportunities to socialize with vendors, key internal clients, and contacts as readily as their counterparts in other functions. If these opportunities become available, typically one needs to be on a senior level to leverage them. How often do HR folks get invited to the company golf match or company benefit event, where informal relationships and mentorships are developed that later become the springboards to higherlevel jobs, salaries, and perks?

Double Standards?

Traditionally, HR groups are subject to tighter budget restrictions, less spending, and more stringent headcount levels. When business results head south, more belt-tightening occurs. HR professionals are continually expected to do more with less headcount while their counterparts in other functions are not likely to be as restricted. These conditions further impact the opportunity for career training and development activities. As headcount levels shrink, working hours become longer, and performance outputs/expectations increase. The direction is given that career training and development activities must be put aside for the moment. How often do we come back to them? How often is the energy there to go back and actively pursue them?

Challenges to Retention

Our investment in the grooming and development of HR practitioners may be called into question, as our better performers may grow impatient with the different "rules" and the slower career progression through the organization. They may seek different roles internally or externally as they eye the progress being made on career advancements by those they serve. They believe that — as HR professionals — they are not keeping pace. We recommend that HR professionals take an assignment in another part of the organization to round out their experience, to build their knowledge about the business, and to learn its language. After their experience there, we hope they come back. As transference in and out (to other functional areas) of Human Resources increases, there is more likelihood for a potential trend.


Excerpted from Never Get Lost Again by Nancy E. Glube, Phyllis G. Hartman. Copyright © 2009 Nancy E. Glube and Phyllis G. Hartman. Excerpted by permission of Society For Human Resource Management.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Paul D. Gibson
Developing the legitimate ability to speak the language of business should be generously inserted into the development plan of anyone who plans to walk the career path 'less traveled' by their HR peers. (Paul D. Gibson, executive vice president & chief human resource officer, Mattamy Homes)

Meet the Author

Nancy E. Glube is the former executive director of human resources at AT&T Mobility. She lives in Alpharetta, Georgia. Phyllis G. Hartman is the president of PGHR Consulting, Inc. and an adjunct instructor at Slippery Rock University. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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