Running HR with no HR experience = running with scissors?

... to work in HR
… to work in HR

The March 9, 2009 issue of the Canadian HR Reporter published the results of a survey to HR professionals regarding whether or not there was any value to having HR experience.  In one particular question, respondents were asked if it was a good or a bad thing to have someone with no HR background run an HR function.  Only 4% said that it was probably or definitely a good thing, while close to 40% were neutral. 

The folks who responded to the survey said that, “often people outside of HR don’t appreciate the effect HR programs have on productivity and the success of the organization, instead seeing the function as a cost centre”.  If the business is the parent then HR is the teenager in angst; Will Smith was right when he said “Parents just don’t understand”.

I’m curious as to what HR professionals are doing to speak in a language that the rest of the business can understand, therefore teaching others that what they do is a) important and impacts the bottom line b) a specific and necessary skill set and c) is a knowledge-base that isn’t grown overnight?

Let’s talk about doing something to show your value.  I’m personally tired of my own complaining and inaction.  I’m always wagging on about my clothes feeling snug, yet when I step on the scale, I expect that number to miraculously go down without any effort on my part.  Big surprise!  No effort, no results.

Not every HR person is faced with this “no respect” issue.  But if you are, don’t hate on me because I’m pointing the finger at you to fix your own image problem:

  • what are you doing to teach the non-HR staff about HR?
  • what have you done to convince others that HR is relevant, impacts the bottom line and cannot be replicated by just anyone?
  • what have you done to embrace a non-HR professional into your function, teach them the ways and make them a believer?

While you’re pondering the above questions, let’s ponder further about why we’re being non-inclusive.  Is it such a big deal to have a non-HR’er in HR?

We know that competencies can be transferred to other functions and the skills can be learned.  HR is no exception to this rule.  Sales people have the negotiation, influencing and relationship building skills required to consult.  Finance folks have the ability to crunch numbers and do cost-benefit analysis of any initiative.  And then there’s the operations manager; their job already consists of motivating their staff to hit a target, managing a budget and creating a business plan.  All the above are good traits to bring into HR – we’ll then train for skill because we understand learning & development inside and out (and we’re awesome).

OK, I’m done venting now.  Pass the Easter ham.


4 Responses

  1. It’s an interesting question. I’ve seen non HR people jump into HR jobs a few times at the intermediate and senior levels. It can work. It is an interesting process for sure. I’m one to downplay the “specialness” of HR, but admittedly when I see someone from the outside come in, I’m reminded of the value of our HR experience and expertise. Having said that, non-HR people bring a different perspective and that is rarely bad.

  2. I too share your views on how to bridge the HR and Strategy gap! I have written a post on this much thrashed issue and I am eager to hear more. The question is are we expecting too much from HR?

    I have opened a discussion in my blog on this issue at http://

    I look forward to visit again and learn from your posts.


  3. I am in the midst of what’s turning out to be a year-long self-discovery project. After losing my job in fundraising last August, I embarked on the journey to try to discover what it is that I really want to be doing with this life.
    As time goes by I am more and more drawn to HR for the support and wellness aspect that it may offer in the workplace. I am a certified yoga teacher and using that and other vast life experience I am interested in supporting staff where they are and in their journey to become what they want to be (or to discover what they want to be).
    I am on the verge of registering for a year-long HR Management college course, but am just wondering if this is really necessary because of my experience, or if I’d just end up in the same HR Administrative Assistant position fresh out of school as I may be able to get now.
    As professionals in the HR field, what are your thoughts on this? School – is it necessary?

    • School in HR is increasingly becoming necessary as the HR profession “professionalizes” itself. More and more people are becoming Certified Human Resources Professionals (CHRP) in Canada and the best way to ensure you can challenge the exam and pass is to do some formal HR education.

      I would challenge you to do at least 3 informational interviews with HR professionals in a variety of roles, including health & wellness, perhaps in recruitment, organizational learning, org development, labour relations, employee relations, etc. A holistic view of HR may put your career path in another direction as you may discover another aspect of HR that you love. Plus, at an informational interview you’ll have a chance to ask other professionals about schooling options.

      Most importantly, I challenge you to consider what HR is about. HR isn’t about helping people, it’s about getting work done though people and it’s ultimately a business discipline. Most organizations need to make money to exist so HR’s work is ultimately about the bottom line… how do you motivate people to be productive so that they can make the company money? The situation you describe with respect to support and wellness, supporting staff in their journey is a job best left to qualified counsellors or therapists who work for Employee Assitance Programs (EAP) organizations and provide outsourced/third party support to organizations but are not in HR.

      Best of luck!

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