HR Advisors Conference Blog

Further thoughts from the conference or about the challenges of being in an HR Advisory role.

The new name for HR?

Years ago when a new CEO started in the company I was working for, I booked a meeting with him. As I walked in the door to introduce myself, he said bluntly and a little bit aggressively “What stupid thing do your team call yourselves?”
“HR” I answered.
He visibly relaxed.
“Excellent” he said “I won’t have to remember some combination of people and culture or capability.”
We got on pretty well after that.

I’ve had the whole ‘what should HR be called?’ discussion with a few people recently. You might argue that’s it’s just a name, but a name is important. Would roses smell as sweet if they were called stink blossoms? Actually they probably would, but you may not want to chance it and miss out (more on that in a moment).

I have to admit that on this topic I’m torn and I’ve talked to people who are both strongly for keeping it and strongly against.

Why should we get rid of the name HR?
There are some bad connections with the term human resources. Some take it to mean that our function uses up the resource of a company like any other commodity. That it de-personalises people. That it has a very compliance and operational feel to it. Even Human Capital isn’t much better. It’s just saying people are a resource but in a different way.
The term ‘HR’ also doesn’t really reflect the work that HR does anymore, especially at the strategic, business partnership end of the scale.

Why would we keep it?
You don’t see any other function discussing changing their name. Accounting, IT, marketing, administration – they stick to their names and everyone understands it. The term ‘HR’ is becoming better understood (not completely and especially not at a high level – see my point above) but if we go and change the name it could confuse managers more.
The other challenge is how would we ever agree on what to call it? The terms I’ve seen different HR teams use are ‘People Capital’ ‘People & Performance’ ‘People and Culture’ ‘Culture and Capability’ and I’m sure there are more. What would the new name be?

Renaming goes wrong…..
Also changing the name can change expectations that can’t always be delivered on. In the last year hundreds of HR Advisor and Manager roles have been changed to being called HR Business Partners. What you’re promising to your business if you call yourself a BP is that you’ll be a strategic business coach for them, challenge the CEO and senior leaders with a depth of operational and financial business knowledge and experience that means you ask the hard questions all the time, that you see how the different parts of the business will feed in to the company strategy and what people and resources will be needed to get there.

A true HR BP role is HUGELY challenging, requires a large amount of operational business experience, confidence and knowledge to challenge and coach senior leaders and be visionary in seeing strategy and how different initiatives, business units, people and processes fit into that.

The name sets the bar HIGH.

If you don’t have the skills and experience to deliver, what’s just happened is that we’ve completely devalued the term HR BP and undermined our profession.

I’ve stopped reading the back of DVD’s now or the little blurb on video’s that people post because often it will say things like ‘This is the most amazing film about xxx’ or ‘You won’t believe what happens in this video’. I watch it expecting to be wowed, and am then disappointed. However when I come to it with no expectations, I’m often pleasantly surprised. If you called a rose a stink blossom, people would probably avoid smelling it. An expectation has been set.

So what is the new name for HR?

I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s actually still HR. Or maybe it should be re-branded properly. I think it’s worth discussing and I’d love to hear your views on it.

Are you called an HR Advisor? Or a People & Culture Advisor? Or something else entirely? At the HRA’s conference we met someone who had the job title: Employee Happiness Engineer. What should we be called?


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This entry was posted on May 13, 2014 by in Operational HR work, Uncategorized and tagged , .
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