Let’s be brutally honest…

by Carol Anderson, Featured Contributor

hr director gossipFast Company has a very cute article, “Brutally honest versions of your job titles.”  I smiled through “Brand Ambassador = Professional Conference Attendee,” and “Social Media Strategist = Person with the Twitter password.”   I suppose that since I do not work in one of those professions, I could chuckle a bit, understanding the subtle poke at their work.

Then I came to “HR Director = Gossip Coordinator/Instigator.”  Aw no – that’s hitting below the belt.  That is the antithesis of everything that anyone in Human Resources hopes to be.  Our world revolves around confidentiality, and here is a popular business magazine calling us gossips and instigators.  There are a lot of “names” I can rationalize because I know we sometimes fall into the trap – Party planner, Evil HR lady, and “oh oh, here comes HR – someone’s gonna be fired.”  But not “gossip.”

This bothers me.  Granted we struggle with being strategic, with being real business partners but I believe, with a few shifts in our work, we can achieve that partnership.  If we are seen as gossips however, we are doomed.

I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that the author of this article must have had one particularly bad experience with confidentiality and HR, thus decided to be “brutally honest” and label HR as a gossip.  Surely, this is an isolated instance and limited to this author.  Surely, this is not a pervasive perception of our profession.

We have to do something about this, folks.  We need to work together to change the image of HR, or we are forever doomed to a Dilbertian existence.  How can we do that?  Perhaps there are some immediate actions we can take….

Acknowledge the special circumstances surrounding the role of HR in an organization.

We know more about the people in an organization than any other group.  We know their salaries, their family members, their family status, their performance, their work problems, their work history – everything.  This is a serious obligation for us and places us in a realm that is different than any ordinary employee.  We are trusted with this information, and therefore should be completely above reproach.  Whether or not we divulge information isn’t relevant; if it is perceived that we divulge information, we have violated that trust.

As HR professionals, we can’t be part of the crowd.  We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Be the keeper of the values of the organization.

Not only must we hold ourselves to a higher standard, but we have the opportunity to raise the standard for the organization by influencing leadership to see the value in their people.  We must walk a fine line between being an advocate for the people, and being an advocate for the business and this is a tightrope that is difficult to maneuver.  The bottom line is, everyone in an organization is there to support and drive the organization forward, otherwise, there is no job.

We have to help the organization discover what is important, and stand by those values.

We may not be liked

Being an effective HR professional may not get us liked, but if our decisions are made to make people like us personally, they will likely be the wrong decisions.  We need to put aside personal needs, and make business decisions that are right for the organization and for the employees.  Too many of us came to this profession because we are “people people.”  HR is about the business first.  The work of the people part of HR IS business work.

I don’t like seeing my profession represented this way, and I suspect I am not alone.  This is a call to action.  Let’s change our reputation, shall we?


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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