Article: The HR Guy Must Not Forget His Core Competence


The HR Guy Must Not Forget His Core Competence

HR should understand business but not forget that understanding people is HR's core competence
The HR Guy Must Not Forget His Core Competence

In all the rush to be business aligned, let HR not forget that their core job is people acumen andtheir primary responsibility is people


We got to start being seen as important to the decision process - it is not an entitlement but anearned right.


A strange experience when you speak in external seminars and conferences, is listening to your own introduction. It sounds so awesome, you wonder if it is you and nervously look around to ensure that somebody else is not getting ready to speak. During one such introduction, I was called the quintessential HR professional…

Eh! I of course needed Google for deciphering ‘quintessential’ and a lot more help to decipher “HR professional”.
Once I figured the meaning of quintessential - I had a new project to figure out: What is a typical “HR Guy”?
Who is he?

It is more likely a she and not a he. For some reason, women outnumber men in this profession. At my last count - for every ‘he’ there were three ‘shes’

Hmmm... should I change “guy” to something else? – (Let me get to a central committee, put a policy together and come out with 5 recommendations to choose from…)

Before I get carried away… This is what I found that the world thinks of us - bureaucratic, policy driven and process book bound!

Agreed. Human Resource professionals over the years have become an integral part of business and play a very active role in success or failure. However, we still struggle with legacy talent, hard-wired perceptions and a lot of baggage. If we need to assert ourselves and be seen on the same level as the CFO or a business head, we should explore the following:

1. HR is not a support function – HR is the custodian

We should segregate the employee services function of payroll, shared services, etc... from our real job. Protect the joint interests of people and organizations. HR is the custodian – it is the representative of business to the people and the people representative to the business. We should be seen as non partisan and objective. HR today is mostly seen as a service provider, support function and representative of business interests.

2. There are enough people to take care of P&L but not enough to take care of people

We should understand business but understanding people is our core competence. In all the rush to be business aligned, let HR not forget that their core job is people acumen and their primary responsibility is people. However, to do that job, HR must understand business but need not become the custodian of the P&L. A lot of people get paid to do that. HR has to be the balancing factor.

3. HR is a specialist role not a generalist role

Many organizations treat HR as a rotation job. Many individuals treat HR as a good place to be whether they have the skill or not. We have to stem that tide. Like you need to be a CA, you need to be a certified HR professional to get in the job. Or at least we should demand that within 24 months of taking this profession, we get people certified. SHRM, NHRD and some progressive business schools have this facility – CHROs must actively push for this.
Maybe, this is the time to get an ICAI equivalent in HR. Is somebody listening?

4. Policy, Process vs People, Speed

I struggle with this many a times. A manager seeking an exception is very upset when you say no. But saying yes means you start a culture of exception and nepotism. A policy and process ensures fairness and transparency but at the same time slows you down. Without policy and process you can’t manage and at the same time you need them. When is too much too much and when is it too less? With time, there is a balance with the right attitude we should be able to find.

5. Seat at the table

Many very senior HR professionals complain that they are brought in at the last minute of transactions, decisions and many a times are not at the decision making table. I find this really ridiculous – I guess this is a combination of weak HR professionals and business leaders not realizing the importance. This will change if we as HR professionals demand and deliver at the decision making table. No point in complaining! We got to start being seen as important to the decision process – it is not an entitlement but an earned right. How many HR professionals are thinking this way?

Like it or not – the HR profession is a critical function but may not be seen so across businesses. Otherwise, why do so few CEOs come from the HR fraternity; negligible companies have HR professionals on their board.

Whatever the reason, we as a community have to break this and enter the mainstream for which we need the confidence of both the people at the shop floor/cubicle and the suits in the board room. A tough call! But isn’t that why we chose this profession? If it was easy we would have done our CA and become a CFO (I am kidding I can already see somebody typing how difficult the CA exam is and I am being stupid!)

I firmly believe that a company that puts people interests on par with their shareholders will be the best company. Maybe a little low on ROI but big on Gross National Happiness. Eventually all of this adds up to our Karmic list…

Are you as an HR professional ready for your Karmic duty in your chosen profession?
Love to hear your feedback as always, I am passionate about the HR profession and would love to see it become the differentiator for all the right reasons.

Elango R, is the Chief Human Resources Officer at MphasiS and author of the book “You Don’t Need a Godfather”. You can read his blog on and follow him on Twitter


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Topics: C-Suite, Watercooler

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