Michael D Haberman: How to achieve commercial HR

The HR function has evolved a lot since the days of the personnel department, and it is this shift that I believe has resulted in an identity crisis for HR professionals, both internally and externally.

The external crisis is a long-held view by management and employees that HR is a necessary evil to be avoided at all costs. Fortunately, this situation is improving as the HR role evolves, but it will not be fully resolved until the internal identity crisis is solved. Quite simply, we HR professionals don’t know what to call ourselves.

As a profession, we call ourselves HR, but critics say people should not be viewed as resources. We don’t hire people now, we ‘acquire talent’ and recruiters are now ‘talent-acquisition specialists’. And we no longer manage employee relations, but employee engagement.

Meanwhile, we are being encouraged to be more commercial, but we are not commercial directors. And although we are not finance directors, we still need to have a firm grasp of our organisations’ numbers. One thing that is clear is that HR professionals increasingly require a complex skillset and must be competent in knowing how their business operates well beyond its marketing brochure. As if this wasn’t enough, the HR professional must also ensure that all the organisation’s interactions with its employees are legally compliant. Lawyers can advise on the law, but HR has to apply it.

So the HR professional must walk the fine line of being a company manager and a people champion. As difficult as this makes it sound, the good news is that people are coming into HR jobs today much more capable and prepared for their roles than many of us were in the past. People now actually want to be an HR professional rather than falling into the profession, so it is up to us to ensure they receive the right training and development to become the commercial professionals required in the current economic climate.

Michael D Haberman is consultant, adviser and writer at Omega HR Solutions