When I started working, in 1982, HR did not really exist. We were called Personnel Managers. Probably I just started working in the period that personnel management started to gain importance, and management and personnel professionals became aware that organisations could benefit from a more strategic and structured approach to people management.
In my working life I experienced three shifts.
From personnel administration to HR management
The first shift was from personnel administration to HR management. Philips Electronics, where I was hired in 1982, was in those days one of the leading companies in this area. I was hired, in a small group of trainees, because Philips wanted a different kind of personnel professionals. more business oriented, and with a more solid scientific background. The research team of the Social Affairs department, was famous in those days.
Trying to be part of management
The next phase was captured well by Dave Ulrich in his book “Human Resource Champions“. This has probably been the book with the largest impact on the HR profession in the last decades. Unfortunately, many people did not read the book, but only saw a picture with the four archetypical roles for HR. For many the book was summarised in one key message: you have to become a Strategic Partner. As strategy was a role of top management, this meant you had to get get close to management, or even better, become part of top management! Many of today’s CHRO’s have grown in this area. Therefore, HR has focused too much on pleasing top management, and forgot to develop one of the other key roles Ulrich described: Employee Champion.
Back to a more employee centric approach
In the last years, we see a trend to a shift back to a more employee centric approach. In a sense, HR is returning to its roots. The term “Human Resources” has become suspicious, and more and more HR departments are changing into People Operations teams. Pleasing employees is becoming more important than pleasing management. The focus on the employee experience is a clear indication of this shift.
Illustration: Studio Fee Overbeeke