By Ed Frauenheim
Mar. 10, 2014
This is my last issue as a staff member of Workforce, a place I’ve called home since 2005. The past 8½ years have been an interesting, satisfying journey. But they haven’t always been comfortable. That goes for me, and it probably goes for many of you.
One of the first things I learned when I came to Workforce from technology news site CNET in 2005 was that human resources professionals often felt insecure about their spot in the corporate pecking order. The whole “seat at the table” inferiority complex.
It infected me as well. I confess I felt some shame writing about HR. I worried I was reporting about a corporate backwater — a function so often deridedas small-minded, ineffective and humorless that Fast Companypublished its notorious “Why We Hate HR” essay in 2005.
At times over the years, I denied I was writing about HR. I focused on the broader, high-minded topic of the “employment deal.”
But my audience overwhelmingly has been HR folks. And over the years, I’ve become much more at ease and even proud to cover the HR profession.
In the first place, most of the HR pros I’ve met are good company. They have big hearts and — when they don’t worry about improprieties at company holiday events — they know how to party.
That’s not all. More than any other corporate role, HR serves as an advocate of both the business and the worker. Intersections are where interesting things happen, and HR sits at the junction where organizations craft and enact their “employee value proposition.” These employment deals determine what kind of talent is sought, acquired and developed. HR pros also shape organizational culture — through things like recognition programs, benefit packages and expectations set for managers. Increasingly, talent and culture are crucial to success.
A subpopulation of HR pros is particularly central to the world that is emerging. They are the techies who design and run people management systems. I once described these folks as the corporate equivalents of Cinderella. They have toiled for years on systems unappreciated or even scorned by their business brethren. But as the big data ball continues to unfold, they are getting their time in the limelight.
There are plenty of HR pros struggling with where the profession is headed: folks with difficulty thinking about the big picture of the business, leaders and rank-and-file HR pros still trying to get their heads around the power and appropriate use of data, and HR professionals who may be too corporate-cold or too unconcerned about employee performance.
In my own way, I’ve wrestled with such issues. My journey at Workforcehas coincided with being a father to two small children. My son was 2 and my daughter not quite a year old when I came to the publication. In fact, I took the job in part to have a more regular schedule than I had at CNET, where breaking stories could mean late nights and the wrath of my wife.
Workforce has afforded me a great work-life balance. But I’ve still faced the challenges of raising kids. And the best parenting formula I’ve found seems to apply equally to people management: Be kind and firm and inspiring. I’ve tried to apply this philosophy as I’ve worked with freelance writers, peers and direct reports. I haven’t always succeeded, but I think I’ve got the general idea right for bridging the interests of organizations and workers.
In fact, my commitment to this idea is behind my departure from Workforce and its parent Human Capital Media. I’m taking a job as a contract writer and editor for The Great Place to Work Institute, where I aim to contribute to its mission of “building a better society by helping companies to transform their workplaces.”
I’m hopeful about that mission. I see organizations caring more than ever about being great places to work — even as they seek to more rigorously evaluate and develop talent and try to rally workers around stirring visions.
In many cases, the people at the heart of those efforts are HR pros. The profession is finding its voice, becoming more confident in its perspective, growing comfortable in its own skin. Watching this development play out over the past 8½ years has been fascinating and gratifying.
I’m leaving Workforce. But in a way I’m taking you with me. HR folks, you’ve earned a place in my heart.
Ed Frauenheim is Workforce's former associate editorial director. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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