Are You Practicing HR or Leading It?

In the past year I have encountered thousands of HR professionals. From being a fellow attendee at a conference, to leading and planning a conference with over 500 HR professionals as attendees to speaking to placing HR professionals, I literally talk to fellow HR pro’s every day.

As one would expect the personality differences from HR professional to HR professional are vast. Extroverts, introverts, those who love HR, those who hate it and those wondering how to break in all abound. In my time however I have decided that, regardless of other personality traits, HR professionals typically fall into one of two camps.

Those who are practicing HR.

And those who are leading it.

Those who practice HR are on top of every new law passed or presented. They are compliance guru’s who could explain the Affordable Care Act better than the President himself. They administer The Family Medical Leave Act with the same ease they make their bed. They are aware of the role of great HR teams and consistently ensure that things never slip through the cracks. Employees in their organizations never have complaints about payroll being late or benefits not being updated properly. They are firm but fair in dealings with employees and are a reliable partner for their business leaders. Those practicing HR embody what the function of HR is at it’s very core.

Those who are leading are the innovators. They are thinking of new ways to do old things. They are interested in the newest offerings in HR technology and are constantly reading about emerging trends in HR. Business leaders who work with these HR professionals look to them for new ideas and strategies that will help them achieve business goals. Those leading HR set the trends for others to follow.

You may think that I’m now going to talk about how one is better than the other. You may think I’m going to tell all HR professionals to be one of these types. I’m not.

As I’ve encountered these two different groups, one truth has occurred to me over and over.

We need both.

The profession, the companies we work for and the employees who work with us need both.

The talk in the last few years would have you believe that if an HR professional wasn’t constantly innovating, they would be left behind. “Thought leaders” have touted their ideas around the fact that all HR must be strategic and on the cutting edge in order to keep up.

It simply isn’t true.

As a profession, maybe. As a team, yes. As an individual, no.

Innovation is important, but so is someone keeping an eye on the reason for our existence in the first place. A phenomenal HR team will have both. You see, those who are leading HR may not be as on top of the compliance stuff as they should be. While those who are practicing may not be on top of emerging trends. An HR team that is partnering with their business leaders and working to make their company a top place to work, needs both.

Now you may wonder why one HR professional couldn’t be both. I think they can, but just like on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, they definitely lean one way or the other. They have a side where they feel most comfortable.

With all the talk my fear is that we have made the practicing HR professionals feel like they are less of a true professional. They aren’t. They play a very important role in keeping our profession true to its original intent. If all we had were innovators, the actual work wouldn’t get done.

The only type of HR professional who may get left behind is the complacent HR professional. The one who is just going through the motions and is really no longer pursuing anything. That’s the only HR professional we should be worried about.

Oh and by the way, don’t let the term leading HR mislead you. I am not implying that those practicing HR can’t be leaders. Either side can be a leader as long as they have the other on their team.

So are you practicing HR or leading it? Either way, we need you.

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