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People persons vs Business persons

December 13th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Ed Newman, in a guest appearance at The Cynical Girl, gives us a provactively titled post this morning.  I’m sympathetic to the spirit of the post, now watch me hedge my way through the details.

What I like:

  • In his “business person” response, Newman does a good job of show how performance problems should be evaluated in terms of outcomes and customer impact
  • Newman also rightly points out that HR is sometimes about negative outcomes; HR people need to recognize that and come to terms with it

What I don’t like:

  • The conflation of HR Person and People Person.  Newman seems to genuinely want HR to have more credibility, but sets up this discussion on the assumption that HR is mostly made up of People Persons.  I don’t need an exhaustive study, but some kind of backing for this position would be nice
  • The suggestion is that the business person will act quickly and decisively, and that’s the right way to react.  When someone needs to be fired quickly, no half-decent HR person will stand in the way. On the other hand, the HR person’s discussion points (which we’re supposed to shake our heads at) can help make sure the right person isn’t terminated in the wrong way, or the wrong person terminated in an embarassing way
  • I’m not clear on how the business person’s outcome is substantively different from the people person’s.  If the manager came to the people person and said “this person is harming our business every day they’re in role”, are we to believe the HR person would wait 3 weeks to act?

I’m all for improving the reputation of HR (and yes, I include recruiting in HR). But I think we do ourselves an injustice when we create false divisions between our function and other business functions.  People person, business person, I don’t care-give me an effective person and I’m happy.

So I think we need a blanket term to collect all our negative impressions of the paper-pushing, process administering, otherwise-useless HR people we’ve all worked with. My suggestions:

  • Personnel Specialist
  • HR Practitioner
  1. Ed Newman
    December 14th, 2010 at 04:49 | #1

    Mark – nice analysis.

    I have no data to support my claim that HR is primarily made up of “People Persons.” I just recall my days in HR and how often I heard people say the reason they got into HR was because they like working with people. HR as a function can be the dumping ground for “people persons.”

    I am a “People Person.” My career planning & placement office in college suggested a Job in Personnel for a couple of years before starting my Masters degree in Psychology (yea – thought about becoming a shrink). But after getting a dose of it, I realized how much I liked business. Helping the company drive revenue by hiring the direct labor to fulfill contracts – that’s why I stayed.

    I also don’t think its a mater of who will react more quickly. I was trying to illustrate the thought processes of the two mindsets. I agree, both will probably take the same amount of time to resolve, but in one case HR is being the Police, and in the other a Partner in business.

    Again – thanks for your thoughtful analysis and the dialogue!

  2. Mark
    December 15th, 2010 at 08:10 | #2

    A great illustration of how HR is perceived. The career planning office equating “people person” with HR/personnel is common enough to be unremarkable, but why doesn’t consumer marketing have the same link? Isn’t it about people (and how they perceive products and services) too?

    Another way to phrase what I’m trying to say: HR is a function that can add unique value, so it shouldn’t have to completely mirror the philosophy and language of other functions to build credibility. For me, that kind of imitation signals to other functions a lack of confidence, which further undermines HR.

    All that said, I appreciate Ed’s post because I agree with his central point: we as HR people need to be sure we understand how the businesses we support think through problems. Otherwise, we quickly become irrelevant in the conversation.

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