Making The Rubber Hit The Road- Rebranding HR


September 22, 2009

If I were asked to describe my “ideal” HR department, it would be one in which every HR pro would:

  • Know the business- Speak the language of the particular industry they support.
  • Understand the financials- This is key to being able to strategically advise leadership on people issues.
  • Get honest– They wouldn’t sugarcoat what is going on.  The only way to really make things better is to examine the issue at hand.
  • Encourage innovation– Include HR at all levels in brainstorming to truly challenge the traditional ways of doing things.  Some processes will remain the same.  Others will be taken to new and better levels.
  • Be recognized publically (internally AND externally) – Other work teams publicize their “wins”.  So should HR.

How do we get to the ideal? We RISE to a new level of awareness:

  • Reduce or outsource administrative functions where possible
  • Innovate to come up with fresh approachs to HR
  • Spread the word about what HR is and what it isn’t and  really publicize HR “wins” and successes
  • Engage all levels of the organization

So, why re-brand and reorganize Human Resources now?  There has been a great deal of focus on the future of HR lately in the blog world.  Several days ago, Lance Haun,, wrote a post pondering whether or not HR was “fatally flawed“.    I thought his idea of HR having a near death experience that would transform it was one worth exploring.  As many of us know, great thinking and great results often come only when someone challenges the popular way of thinking.  In this case, popular thinking of human resources as a mostly administrative role that supports the strategic leadership of the business.

I encourage you to read Lance’s post if you haven’t already.  He suggested that many of the administrative processes can be outsourced so that focus can be directed to three critical, strategic roles: a workplace process and productivity expert, a functional and effective ombudsman, and an employee life cycle manager.  His post encouraged many comments from HR pros weighing in on both sides of the question.

On the heels of Lance’s post, Laurie of Punk Rock HR hit us with ‘HR is dying. Yes? No?‘  The great thing about Laurie and her approach is she tells us right up front what she thinks, no sugar-coating (unless it’s about Scrubby, her cat).  Her take is that HR is dying.  People generally avoid HR, not embrace it.  Her post generated 86 comments (as of today) so you can see that this is a topic that inspires many people to weigh in on the state of the profession.  After reading all the comments, the common theme I saw was:

  • HR is in need of some serious overhaul
  • HR gets a bad rap for some of their roles and could do much better at publicizing the great things they do
  • HR pros (excluding the crappy ones) are willing to do what it takes to drive the change and help HR evolve

Laurie said it best in her comment response. “One thing I know: if we don’t innovate and thrive, we’re as good as dead. So I wonder — what are some good examples of HR doing it right? The Red Cross was one. If UR DOIN IT RITE at your companies, why isn’t CNBC profiling your HR team? Why aren’t you called upon as experts when there’s an article about unemployment, staffing, or workforce issues? Do we just need better PR teams for HR departments who are doing it right?”

As I started drafting this post and was half way through, Mike VanDervort over at The Human Race Horses grabbed the baton.  Check out his post to see how he describes the various types of HR pro as he sees it.  There are obviously those who will help drive change in updating the HR profession (Rock star, Expert, Specialist), the “status quo” Professional, and the ones that are clearly not joining in the movement of change (Preventer, Placeholder, and Victim).

One thing Mike said really hit me. “Why aren’t those of us who are perhaps on the leading edge of HR thought  and social media doing more to use our bad ass blogs and communities and all the other forums that we have at our fingertips  to tell the world just how kick ass HR can be?”  This directly ties into the idea I had which is that part of the HR overhaul should really focus on how HR portrays itself to the masses.  How well we publicize the great things we do will determine how we re-brand ourselves.

All this feels like the culmination of many different approaches all leading to the same result.  A new HR. A refocused, redefined, re-branded HR.  The ball is rolling.  How do we gain momentum?


  • Hello Trish, I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts on HR needing to rebrand. Two other thoughts come to mind:

    1) HR needs to embrace metrics and quantitative analysis. I have yet to see organizations heavily adopting metrics to drive workforce and individual performance. While HR may speak to “numbers”, the data behind most analysis (and decision making) is qualitative in nature (i.e. candidate-job matching, performance reviews, promotion/succession planning). There are solutions that can provide a more metrics based approach (which align with what other departments are doing such as Finance and Marketing).

    2) HR needs to understand not only the industry (which would be a good start) but also the various functions across an organization and the challenges they are faced with. Each department has specific needs and problems, all of which come down to issues around people and management.

    Part of the issue HR is experiencing is a dearth in leadership. This is limiting how HR can positively impact organizations and become a business partner. How many CEO’s and board of directors have ever come from a predominantly HR background? The top leaders and most experienced managers are going into more lucrative fields. This used to be the case for IT managers, but now there are more CIO’s that are seen as business partners and having positive impact.

    HR is not dying, and you are absolutely right on the re-branding. There absolutely needs to be a PR overdrive in order to highlight the best HR leaders and visionaries. At the same time, it would help if companies gave HR more prominence in the executive suites (with higher pay), and if top MBA schools started focusing (and providing specializations in) the field of HR beyond the typical organizational development core class. But before that happens, the HR field needs to start talking up its top HR leaders now.

  • Great job, as always Trish. I think there is a lot of fear out there as well and to be truly innovative you need to not only push barriers you have to destroy them, be willing to fail, and own it the entire way.

    This economy has put us in a situation where the thought leaders and innovators have the power of amazing change at there fingertips like NEVER before.

    Let’s break some rules, be creative thinkers, and lead the organizations we represent and systematically CHANGE the face of our profession.

    Thanks for bringing and keeping the topic front and center.

  • This reminds me of the post that Lisa had earlier this year about “Cool HR” and changing how people perceive us.

    I think we have to make an impact each and every time we interact with people, whether they are inside or outside the HR department. If you can’t treat your own people with respect, nobody else will believe you. But if you start from within and grow your influence until it’s impossible not to notice, then I think you will drastically change the perception of the HR profession altogether.

    But most people only interact with HR pros who don’t regularly read, interact, and challenge themselves. And until we reach those within our own ranks, I’m not sure how we’ll change those outside. That’s where organizations like SHRM have the opportunity to make a difference, but we can’t force them to do it.

    Great things like this take a grassroots effort to really make a change. And we have some amazing leaders and ideas (HRevolution, anyone?). Let’s get this thing rolling. I’m in. Who’s with me?

  • @Trish

    Awesome job on the post, and thanks for pushing this on-going dialogue along. We all need to be doing this to make things better.


    How about devoting part of the #HRevolution sessions to a “thinktank”s session on how to get these ideas and others like them going out into mainstream HR?

  • I’m with Ben on this one. If we are going to make a change, we have to reach those within our own communities and local chapters. I think it starts with introducing those people to world outside of their own bubble; open their eyes and show them there’s a community of people out here trying to make a change.
    The perception that HR is like Toby from The Office has gone on too long. We aren’t the policy police, we are the department of no, and we aren’t the party planners or dress code coordinators. We’re business partners, strategic team members; difference makers.

  • Trish, excellent post, however I must disagree with re-branding. The problem to me isn’t with the brand it’s with the execution and results. Our customers create our brand, so instead of us telling them what we’ve done well, they should tell us. If they can’t or don’t, then you know you have a problem.
    I understand Mike’s point in his blog, but let me ask you this: Finance is seen as a valuable member of the strategic team at most companies, and they never have to toot their own horns, or tell people they are doing a great job. They’ve built credibility by delivering consistent realiable results over and over again. That’s what HR needs to do. I understand we live in a quick results culture, but this is going to take lots of time and lots of effort, and although local support is a beginning of the groundswell, there needs to be an improved effort by SHRM to act as a steward of the industry.
    Sorry, just my rambling thoughts.

  • Having worked in a “metrics overload” environment – I can speak from experience that just because you CAN measure it doesn’t mean you should.

    Understanding the numbers, knowing the business, and being able to get at true ROI on initiatives is important – but sometimes it takes just “doing the right thing” – or using other soft skills to succeed in the HR realm.

    Most of the best HR folks I know have a balance of intuition and business sense.
    And most of the best business folks I know have the same skillset.

  • Trisha,

    I’ve been reading and absorbing all the blog posts the last two weeks about HR, the role, the evolution and the future. I haven’t commented on anyone’s blog before this because everything has been incubating in my mind.

    I think we all agree that HR needs to change in many ways, but the issue for me has been how. How does massive change come to an entire industry that does so much?

    We cannot depend on Executives to change how HR is valued or perceived within organizations. For some of them, no matter how much value we contribute, we will always be a necessary evil.

    We can’t depend on SHRM (yet) to facilitate the change. They are dealing with their own overhaul. They have movers and shakers who are bringing a new perspective such as China Gorman, but it will take time. I do believe once they are on the other side of it, they will be a huge influencer.

    In some cases both the HR leader and the HR team undermine the credibility we want to establish.

    SHRM chapters? Some chapters are fantastic. Some are not. My local SHRM chapter has leaders leaders that refer to themselves as personnel.

    So what is the solution? What do we do?

    Ben is right, it’s a grassroots effort that begins with us. The difference today vs. even three years ago is our unprecedented ability to form online communities.
    How many thousands of people are in our online circle of influence?

    Let the grassroot efforts begin with us. These conversations should continue and as they do, we will shape the future of HR. We will set the standards of what is acceptable and what’s not. Let’s commit ourselves to doing what Lance Haun, Laurie Ruettimann, Mike VanDervort and others are doing:

    – ask hard questions
    – voice opinions
    – engage in constructive debate

    Thanks for this post Trisha. Let’s keep the momentum going! I can’t wait to see what HRevolution contributes to this conversation.

  • Great Post! Here’s the thing…….. If we are not willing to think outside the box, and innovate and evolve, HR will be pronounced dead. If we embrace Social Media, and new and different ways of doing business, there will be great things to look forward too~

  • Wow, Trisha, think you set off a few feelings on the topic?
    I go back to your first points at the top of the post. If an HR pro is doing those first four, then they should be making a difference for that business. Then if there is an opportunity to communicate the value, we look for that opportunity and take advantage of it.
    We have no inherent value. Or at least no inherent value-add. When we act transactionally, then we are treated that way. When we act sensibly, aligned with the business, then we can be respected for bringing solutions that matter. Solutions that provide our businesses with an advantage. When we bring innovation, solutions that bring about step-change, then we are indispensable. HR isn’t an industry, it’s a practice and we all perform it to varying degrees with varying success.

  • I read a very interestinr atricle the other day that questions motives for shameless self promotion among HR professionals. The link is in my name if anyone wants to check it out. The data in the article would suggest to me that HR is dying out, and something needs to be done to stop it!

  • Great post which gives some good ideas about “What” a rebranded HR should look like. There are plenty of HR Visionaries out there, but we now need to make it happen, the key question is “How” do we get there?
    The biggest barrier in the past to achieving the HR vision is not lack of support from the business, but lack of appropriate transformation skills in HR. The skills required to ‘transform’ HR are very different to the skills required to ‘manage’ HR. (for info see article and report about Transformational Skills Gaps in HR – ) The good news is that these transformational skills can be acquired, developed or harnessed and will take HR where it belongs – leading organisations. Whats required is much more than the re-branding or HR, its a complete transformation.

  • Trish, thanks for a thought provoking post. Adding on to the discussions via all the comments, here’s my take: A community including a professional body is as good as it’s individual members.

    I feel that HR as a body will be in a position to re-brand if- and only if- individual HR practitioners are willing to invest time and effort to re-brand. A few questions for introspection: While exhorting others to learn, have we stopped learning ourselves? What special efforts do we make to understand business issues if not actually think like business leaders?

  • I don’t know if it’s the fault of HR or the larger organizations, but HR in sooooo many companies functions primarily as a police department. They document the rules, enforce the rules, keep the records and when it’s time for a layoff or firing, deliver the pink slips. The result? HR as a department, and as individuals are both hated and feared. Sadly, I’ve seen far too many cases where that very rule-focused, enforcer role attracts people who get off on that kind of power, perpetuating the punitive reputation.

    What a breath of fresh air it would be for more HR departments to be a resource for growth opportunities, a place to go for help with questions and access to training on demand. A facilitator of employee development. Sure, HR will still have some gate-keeper functions. But maybe a little more St Peter and a lot less Grim Reaper would help.

  • I always tell people that I’m in HR, but I’m not like any HR people they’ve ever met before, because I’m actually fun. 🙂

  • LOL! And those of us who connect with you on twitter know that it’s true!

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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