• Human Resources

What Does It Take to Be a Successful HR Professional?

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

The HR profession has had many names: Industrial Relations, Personnel, HR. And now some organizations, such as Google, have invented new names, where HR is “People Operations.”

HR used to be seen as doing only administrative work, but now HR (or whatever you call it in your organization) is actively involved in setting strategy around the people who do the work that moves your organization toward the achievement of your mission, vision, and organizational goals.

  • HR can, and should, serve as advisors to organizational leadership to develop strategic workforce plans that link to the organization’s strategic plan to ensure that the right people are on board so that the firm can meet its objectives and fulfill its mission.
  • HR partners with line management to provide development opportunities to maximize the potential of each employee.
  • HR advises management on total rewards programs (compensation and benefits) and rewards and recognition programs designed to minimize costly employee turnover and to maximize employee engagement and retention.

In order to add real value to organizations, HR professionals must understand the business they are in—not just their part of the business.

They also need to understand the economics of business—how the organization is funded if it is a nonprofit or how it makes money if it is a for-profit organization.

A fully functional HR professional, like any other businessperson, should be able to read and understand a profit-and-loss statement, create and manage to a budget, and understand profit centers.

Too often HR professionals limit themselves by not actively participating in discussions around marketing, finance, and the operations of the organization.

They only speak up when the discussion gets around to topics such as pay or benefits. The late Pam Farr, the brilliant and highly strategic HR executive at Marriott International, used to tell the story that she would time herself in senior leadership meetings. She would wait at least 20 minutes before bringing up an HR-related issue while all the time she would be actively engaged in the marketing or finance discussions.

This positioned her as a valued partner to the other executives who saw her first as a business colleague and then as the HR leader she was.

To really set yourself apart as a HR professional, think about how you can add value to your organization.

Can you:

  • Participate with understanding in discussions around your organization’s business objectives?
  • Find a way to do something more efficiently than it is currently being done?
  • Determine how people and processes can contribute to the bottom line?
  • Partner with other leaders in your organization to maximize efficiency?
  • Think strategically—anticipate challenges and resolve potential problems?
  • Ask the right questions to help your organization meet its goals and achieve its mission?
  • Lead change initiatives when required?
  • Communicate effectively in order to influence other leaders?
  • Demonstrate your proficiency in HR-related topics such as staffing, retention, compensation, benefits, total rewards, rewards and recognition, employee engagement, and employee relations?
  • Lead the organization in an ethical fashion—protect the organization and its employees from doing anything that is unethical?

Questions: Don’t hesitate to contact me with thoughts and feedback at barbaramitchell@comcast.net.


About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and not-for-profit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and “The Big Book of HR.”

Mitchell is a graduate of North Park University in Chicago, with a degree in History and Political Science.

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