11 September 2018

It's time for HR to stop thinking about perceptions, and start doing what it believes is right, say experts

Experts say HR needs to get over the ‘seat at the table’ conversation and start making a strategic difference to their organisations


Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery is head of content and community at Ciphr. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine. You can find her on Twitter @c_newbery.


Career development HR transformation Leadership and management


Experts say HR needs to get over the ‘seat at the table’ conversation and start making a strategic difference to their organisations

If Helen of Troy was the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’, Harvard Business Review’s 2015 article Why we love to hate HR… and what HR can do about it is arguably the story that launched a thousand agonising, soul-searching blogs.

And the trend shows little sign of abating, with 80% of HR professionals we surveyed saying that a quest for greater professionalism in HR would be an influencing factor in 2018. But given how many other priorities HR professionals can expect to be juggling this year, isn’t it time to give ourselves a break; to stop worrying and start acting?

“I really hope HR professionals can get over this kind of stuff,” says global HR consultant Rita Trehan. “For one, it’s really arrogant. What other business leader do you hear saying, ‘excuse me Mr CEO, can I have a seat at the table, because if I don’t have a seat I can’t do my job?’ They don’t – they perform, and that’s how they get their seat at the table. Younger members of HR teams today are itching to be given the opportunity ; we owe it to them to show them a different path.”

Actions should be speaking louder than words, agrees Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR. “We’ve spent decades worrying about if we are being taken seriously. I think if we are creating conditions where our organisations can thrive, where people can become more creative and collaborative, and where our employees and leaders can become more productive and agile, that’s enough.”

However, one change in HR terminology is not to be sniffed at: the increasing usage of the phrase ‘HR professional’ in preference to ‘HR practitioner’. HR has “evolved over the last 60 years to become a profession,” says Dave Ulrich, author and Rensis Likert professor of business at the University of Michigan. “There is a body of knowledge that shows up in rigorous research and theory; a set of standards that show up in competencies for those who work in HR; and clear outcomes for HR around talent, leadership, and organisation. In leading firms, HR professionals have a dramatic impact on business results.”

David D’Souza, membership director at the CIPD, is keen to see a clear distinction in how an HR professional and HR practitioner approaches and solves challenges, and contributes to the wider sector. “For me, the difference is that a professional is part of a broader community with a broader sense of responsibilities. That’s one of the areas we’ve focused on at the CIPD; giving organisations confidence in the credibility of HR, and allowing HR professionals to show their level of professionalism through a modern framework.”

Perry Timms, founder of PTHR and author of Transformational HR, offers a different take on the distinction. “I think a professional is somebody who is affiliated more to their craft than to the actual place where they are doing it. Are you doing something for the craft, the trade, the body of people who are doing similar things for you, and giving back to that community? Are you going beyond your day job? I think connecting with that community gives you confidence, because you can check yourself against fellow professionals, and gather more evidence that backs up your theories and practices.”

But however you define yourself – as a professional or practitioner, or a ‘people’ rather than an ‘HR’ person – the most important thing for 2018 will be to stop worrying about perceptions of what you do, and crack on with making robust, evidence-based decisions that positively impact the employees and organisations you support.

“We need to genuinely showcase our expertise,” says D’Souza. “Our expertise in the dynamics of organisations; in the psychology of people and how they work and in how to get the best performance out of them; and also our expertise in the more traditional sense, around compensation and employment law. This year we will see some real challenges for organisations and the people within them – but we have a fantastic opportunity to step up and really make a difference.”

This is an extract from Ciphr’s free white paper, From evidence to automation: eight trends that’ll shape the HR profession in 2018.