I had a great conversation this week with Mike Haberman of ‘HR Observations’. Mike is the cofounder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc., an HR and Benefits consulting firm which works primarily with small and mid-size businesses. He is also a HR instructor at Kennesaw State University Continuing Education. Mike has found a niche in the HR blogging world by providing analysis of legislation that affects human resources.
Mike and I met via Twitter and our blogs. We’ve never met in person, but talking with him was definitely like chatting with a long-lost friend. We shared stories of our HR careers, our thoughts on legislation that is affecting and will affect HR, how to use social media more effectively, and how to connect with other HR and business leaders. We also talked about the topic of transactional HR. We tend to agree that transactional HR is something that should not be completely banished from the HR department or completely outsourced.
The topic of transactional vs. strategic HR keeps coming up because as professionals, we’re coming to a cross-roads. Now, I am the first to admit that at this point in my career, the less of the transactional type of HR I can do, the better. But let me take a moment to say why I think that transactional HR is important. As you begin your career in HR, whether you are right out of school or you are transferring into the HR department from another line of the business (marketing, internal communications, etc.) it’s important to learn the basics. I know it’s frustrating to have to handle payroll or benefit questions. I understand that learning the process of how to go through all the steps of recruiting can be tedious at times. I “get it” because I’ve been there. It’s not about paying your dues, it’s about getting those functional skills around the processes of HR firmly set in your knowledge base. They are the foundation of the career.
I read a good post by Ben Eubanks at Upstart HR (How To Move Up In HR) that told about his frustrations with what amounts to the transactional side of HR for entry level professionals. My challenge if you are in that role right now is to just listen and observe. When you see your manager taking control over a tough employee relations situation, make notes. Ask to speak to them afterward and question how they knew what approach to take. You will learn that it is only with years of experience that you begin to understand fully that there are not always right and wrong answers. Dealing with humans means you cannot predict what will happen. The day you think you can, you will be proven wrong. Once you learn that, and fully accept that, you will finally be ready to start applying that knowledge strategically.
If you are already in a leadership position, use that opportunity to begin showing someone more junior to you how and why you make the recommendations you do in employee relations situations. It will be a good learning opportunity for them in a practical sense and it will help you as a practitioner because you’ll be asked questions that may challenge your way of thinking. Win/ win.
So, do I want to spend a majority of my time thinking “big thoughts” and being creative? Absolutely. Do I still need to handle some of the transactional issues of HR? Absolutely. My strategic ideas still need that good foundation. Transactional HR is not a four letter word. It’s the means to continually learning what is really going on with the employees.
Think I’m wrong? Think I’m right? Let me know in the comments.
Trish—Good observation. Business leaders won’t allow you to make an impact if paychecks aren’t getting cut or if the benefits program is a mess. You have to first establish the credibility of the department by making it “run.” Work needs to get done, and transactional HR programs and processes are the important foundation that an HR group needs to have to support making business impact later. The 2 go hand in hand.
I wonder if we will ever be able to get past the ‘Strategic vs. Transactional’ Argument. As you state there will always be a blend of both no matter what we do. The main item that will distinguish the HR problem solvers from the HR order fillers will be how individuals (1) balance the tasks and (2) differentiate those task from the relationships and business/people needs.
Trish – good post. I also believe that transactional HR is a great way in understanding what is going on with employees. To me, that is a critical component in knowing when to make adjustments at the strategic level.
Thanks for the mention. As I alluded to in my post today, we would like to all be like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz and think deep thoughts, aka being strategic. But strategy falls flat on its face if the day-to-day is not done or not done well. Kudos to those who are the “transactionists!”
Transactional HR is a part of HR whether we like it or not. Paychecks and payroll will need to be process, employee files created, and spreadsheets (don’t get me started). It’s a necessary part of HR and that’s what the Strategic folks want to forget and who doesn’t love a god spreadsheet?
Can you imagine if no one wanted to do the transactional work? Bless those that love payroll, been there and done that and I so don’t want to go back.
I met Mike at a local chapter event last December. He’s just as great in person as he is on the phone or on this blog.
Great post, Trish. I was just thinking about this over the last week and am wirting a post with some similar but not identical thoughts.