Since ages, most of the work that HR colleagues around the globe are performing for companies of all sorts of sizes and types are being referred to as the, soft factor“, or the “human element”. Subsequently, this profession in many places developed a perception as being little precise or scientific and therefore not requiring much expertise. If you want to pursue a career within HR one of the few key requirements that seems to be frequently mentioned is the desire to work with people.
As a consequence, many HR professionals who I met throughout my career seem to have an irritatingly low degree of self-esteem. Often I heard them even referring to the fact that the impact of their work isn’t measurable and therefore tough to make a case for it and that they represent a cost to the business. An attitude that is largely being unheard of in other support functions like Finance. And sadly enough, some of the research done on HR seems to back up this perception. There are various statistics on which functions generate future CEOs and guess what, their common denominator is that HR typically doesn’t.
"If you want to pursue a career within HR, one of the few key requirements that seems to be frequently mentioned is the desire to work with people"
So while this may be more of a “chicken or egg” question, it is not much of a surprise that many HR people lately seem to be obsessed with some of the emerging trends around big data, robotics, and AI. Having been self-accused of not being data-driven, not being efficient enough and rather practicing an art than a science, many HR people jump on any opportunity that seems to provide them with a chance to demonstrate the credibility of their work.
Take AI, enhanced or even autonomous recruiting as an example. It is purely fact-based, data-driven, generates efficiencies, is fast and seems to be appealing for the next generations that enter the workforce. An amazing opportunity for HR to demonstrate how their function evolves towards the digital age, finally moving away from being overly “touchy and feely”.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that such trends should be leveraged and could significantly enrich existing practices. But funny enough, most CEOs and senior business leaders that I have talked to, actually value their HR professionals explicitly for taking care of soft factors such as corporate culture, team composition and managing the morale of the workforce. And until today I haven’t met a CEO that questions the impact of that type of work at all. They do see a lot of value in having a piece of their organization being less focused on hard facts but on the “human element”, and acting as the organization’s watchdog, protecting the company’s entry gate by ensuring that anyone joining doesn’t only tick as many boxes as possible on a laundry list of skills and experiences, but is also a good fit with the team or the right person to shake up some others within a given team.
In essence, I think HR shouldn’t be shy about being a profession that if performed well does require soft factors such as applying emotional intelligence or even an element of gut feeling. If these important aspects and requirements of high impact HR work are ignored, we will soon find out that what’s left will to a large degree easily be digitalized and efficiently be run by AI. So be proud of it and make sure you practice it.