HR's Primary Role and How To Fulfill It

As I was reading Twitter posts today I came across one posted by a favorite of mine. Sharlyn Lauby, the HR Bartender, conducted an Interview with Libby Sartain. She is an author and speaker, the former board chair for SHRM and is famous as the proactive, forward-thinking Chief Human Resources Officer for both Southwest Airlines and Yahoo. She is, as Sharlyn calls her, “…the real deal – business savvy, HR smart, and volunteer leader.” She is certainly a model for up-and-coming HR pros to follow.

In the interview she made a statement that made me say “Yes, she has it! What a perfect summary!” Her quote was:

“The primary role for HR is to ensure that the business succeeds by having
the right workforce in the right place at the right time.
There is so much more involved including strategic workforce planning and talent management,
the right rewards and recognition, flexibility to add and delete workers according to
business requirements. And, ensuring a culture that inspires and leads to a higher performance than the competition.”
What is the skill set needed for this level of performance for HR? Here is my list:
  1. Knowledge of the business your business is in. How can you know if you are finding the right people if you don’t know what is needed. So you need to know your industry and your competition. And that means more than just the names.
  2. You need to be a futurist. You need to know what is happening and what may happen. How are things like demographics, technology, social trends and legal developments going to impact your business. This is the proactive stuff. If you don’t foresee it you are doomed to react to it.
  3. You need to understand how your business operates, how it makes its money. If you don’t you will  be adding or deleting people without understanding why. You can help upper management make reasoned decisions rather than just reacting to their perceived need to cut costs.
  4. You need to know compensation and motivation. Remember her statement was “the right rewards”.
  5. You need to know the laws of the land. There are many “legal landmines” that can thwart your best efforts to run a good HR show. So know your stuff.
  6. You need to have a “very good presence.” All leaders (and that is what HR should be) at some point have to make a presentation, make a speech in front of a group of employees or an executive board, or represent the company in a public setting. Learn how to speak and to do so effectively. Get over that fear by going to a Toastmasters program or a Dale Carnegie class or even get a private coach.
Those are my thoughts on required skills. What would you add to it?
Thanks to Sharlyn Lauby and Libby Sartain for this stimulation! If you do not follow them both you should, you will learn a tremendous amount on a weekly basis. And I see Libby’s most recent book, Brand for Talent: Eight Essentials to Make Your Talent As Famous As Your Brand, making its way to my bookshelf in the very near future.

6 thoughts on “HR's Primary Role and How To Fulfill It”

  1. Hi Mike,
    Loved your blog today. As you know I'm not an HR practitioner but I've observed a few who didn't start out in HR but in other areas of the business and they really have a total picture. It's part of your first and third points: know the business your business is in and how it operates but take it a step further. Know how work really is done in your business: get a feel for the nuts and bolts, do a stint in Customer Service, ride along with a sales person, etc. Spend time actually in the business. (Undercover HR – good title for a reality TV show!) I wish I'd spent time in HR when I was in the corporate world but then, I have you and @cathymartin to give me guidance.

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