No HR (background) For You! Next!

Yesterday I felt the need to respond to a post on LinkedIn (lord knows why) that led off with the statement “You don’t need to have a background in HR to lead HR” and then linked to this article. Loads of happy-clappy folks chimed in about how the best skill set for HR is to “care for people” and similar thoughts that practically brimmed with smile emojis. Lots and lots and LOTS of self-love and group affirmations. #HighFive

So I felt the need to respond. After doing so I realized I had, for the most part, written a blog post. So you’re welcome.

(my response)

Let me stir the pot because I strongly disagree with your assertion that “you don’t need to have a background in HR to lead HR.” (with a few limited caveats as listed below).

The HR field already suffers from an abysmally low barrier to entry; I see this day-in-and-day-out when “someone” is hired or promoted to be the Head of HR (often SMBs or Depts of One) who does not even possess the most fundamental and basic foundational knowledge about employment law, recruiting/staffing/hiring, comp and benefits, etc.  Far too many companies (again, primarily SMBs with <200 EEs) have their HR function being “led” by people who, by their lack of knowledge, are putting both their organizations and their employees at risk. 

They can be a change-agent/people-centric “leader” all they want (and hallelujah if they are) but that does not mean they can or should lead HR.  One should not be “in charge” of HR and simultaneously not understand the most elemental aspects of the function. Hard stop.

Yet this happens due to the widespread belief amongst owners/biz leaders that “anyone can do HR” or “we can move Susie into HR since she’s so nice/good with people/rocks the sales dept/wants to do it.”  And thus we continue to water down the entirety of the profession.

Would we ever (ever?) say “you don’t need a background in Accounting to head up the Accounting Department?” or “you don’t need a background in Marketing to head up the Marketing Dept?” Nope; we wouldn’t.

So why do we think it’s “ok” for HR? 

Here’s my caveat…………..moving into HR from another discipline can be a good thing – when it’s purposeful and also requires sufficient business acumen or industry/organizational experience where it’s part of, as an example, a rotational program.  The linked article speaks to those types of situations: LEGO, Unilever, Flipkart.  That is a whole lot different than what someone reading “you don’t need a background in HR” needs to hear when they want to be hired as the HRD at Acme Insurance with 100 employees.

Because that person is a danger and quite often a poor representation for ALL of us who work in HR.

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One thought on “No HR (background) For You! Next!

  1. Many thanks for flagging this oversimplified post about our article. I would certainly never advocate the “you don’t need…” argument. I would be grateful if you would give me the link to the post, as I would wish to go and comment on it myself. I suspect that this one did not tag me/my co-author, and so we have not seen it.
    Thanks again and kind regards,
    Claire Harbour (author of the OP on INSEAD Knowledge)

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