The Evolution of Music and Human Resources


November 16, 2009

Today I am traveling to Corporate University, so I thought I would share a post I wrote in early October for Halogen‘s “The Lighter Side of HR“. I have made a few tweaks to the original post and sharing it for the first time on my site. I’d love to have anyone with ideas about HR technology comment at the end. Cheers!

According to, evolution is “a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development.” Many things evolve: organisms, language, technology, music, and industries, just to name a few. Thinking about how evolution is directional progress made me think about how an industry, like HR, would compare to the evolution of something else. In this case, music.Music

Human Resources has been around for generations, it just has not always been defined in the same way. As early as the 1800’s, there has been some thought given to employees and what motivates them to work. Back then and into the early 1900’s, employees were viewed like machines: they were a necessary evil to get the job done. Employees were thought to be motivated only by money, therefore it was not necessary to consider their care. This was the main school of thought.

From the 1920’s through the 1960’s, there were many changes. A movement began that focused on the needs of employees, the desire to treat employees fairly, and not to discriminate. Laws were put into place that shaped the way companies had to treat their employees. By the 1970’s, human resources, or “personnel” as it was known then, was beginning to evolve, much like music.

LP’s and Personnel

There are many similarities of how technology helped the music industry and the human resources industry evolve. Each decade, musical styles evolve and so do the delivery methods of the music. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, LP’s were the way that people bought their music. At the time, it was great. But, like everything, technology was improving. LP’s could be easily scratched, could warp or break, and could not be transported easily or played in a car. Personnel departments of the same time were much like the LP. As a practice, it was new. It was about making sure companies met the criteria of the employment laws that had been put into place. It was a predominantly compliance and administration driven industry. But, it didn’t take it to the next step of really caring about the employees. While it was an improvement from having no real protection for employees, there were certainly some “scratches or warps” that could be seen in the personnel departments of the 1970’s.

Cassette Tapes, HR, and Choices

By the 1980’s, music and HR were noticeably evolving. Technology brought synthesizers to new styles of music. LP’s were on the way out and even the short-lived 8 track tape was not going to see a long life. The cassette tape was the new music delivery method. It not only allowed portability of the music, it gave users the ability to make choices about the music they wanted to record. HR was evolving too. The term “Human Resources” came into fashion pushing “Personnel” aside. Not only were these HR departments handling paperwork and compliance, they were beginning to promote compensation strategies, health and wellness, and working with managers on employee relations issues.  Employees wanted the ability to have choice in their benefits, compensation, and other HR areas.

CDs and Slick, Targeted HR Pros

As the 1980’s came to a close and the 1990’s rolled in, CD’s, the latest and greatest technology came on strong. Cassette tapes could unwind, tear, and crease. CD’s were sleek, thin, and provided better sound quality. HR was changing with the technology too. Leadership began to shift its view of HR as more HR departments hired college grads with specific degrees in HR Management, Organizational Development, or Human Resource Development. HR departments were investing heavily in technical solutions for ATS and HRIS. They were also pushing the notion of having a “seat at the table” or being part of the C-Suite.

MP3s, Downloads, and Flexibility in HR

As the end of the century rapidly approached, the changes in technology once again hit the music scene. CD’s, while still available, were becoming less popular thanks to MP3 players and downloading music. It was customizable like never before. HR was adopting some of that strategy too. Benefits programs were offering cafeteria style plans to meet individual needs. Companies began to focus on work/life balance. Flexible schedules, telecommuting, and job sharing were all possibilities now due to advances in communication technology.

So, here we are nearing the end of 2009. What will 2010 bring? As social media becomes more popular and HR professionals consider alternatives to “traditional” HR approaches, how will we use technology to support the evolution?

There are many theories out there now. Share your ideas to keep the profession moving forward.


  • I like the train of thought here. I was listening to a podcast about health insurance, and realizing that we are in the midst of an evolutionary change there, too. What’s different is that we seem to be stuck with this current framework – it’s like never giving up on the 8 Track or cassette.
    HR has to see the shifts and learn to use them. We need to experiment and be prepared to miss the mark from time to time, bacause there is an opportunity that’s just not visible yet – the ideas that are game-changers. In other words, we don’t use technology to make what we already do easier, we need to use it to try new things, and we need to collaborate extensively to get the insights to figure out what those new things are.
    And more than anything, technology has enabled a new era of collaboration.

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About Trish

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


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