The Purpose of Human Resources

What is the purpose of human resources in an organization?

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of human resources? Does the stereotypical HR person represent you? Are we working to make sure everyone is “playing nicely” and that every rule is being followed to the letter of the law? Are we planning picnics and making sure that nobody’s feelings are hurt whenever a decision is made?

Lord, I hope not. 

I see the purpose of human resources as something else entirely, and some of the brightest people in the entire human capital industry do as well. Check out this phenomenal quote that made me stop in awe–it encapsulates well the true purpose of human resources.

HR departments should focus both on talent (getting better people) and organization (building stronger capabilities). If the focus is only on talent, the organization may be a disconnected group of all-stars who don’t play well together and don’t win over time. Line managers need to find great people, but then create great organizations for the people to work in. The strongest HR departments help secure talent and shape organizations.

And that, my friends, is a great example of what HR should be about. When you’re looking at your “to do” list, the major items should always map back to those two key components: getting better people and building stronger capabilities.

Everything else is second.

Because at the end of the day, your leadership team is going to pat you on the back not for the great cake you baked or the employee whose hand you held when they had a tough time, but for the talent and the culture that will sustain the business through good and bad times. That’s your true role. That’s the purpose of human resources.

Are you living out your purpose as an HR pro? Why or why not?

6 thoughts on “The Purpose of Human Resources

  1. Patty Tanji

    Heaven forbid we should hold another’s hand once in a while. That would be committing corporate sin. I do understand your point…but wouldn’t it be great if we went beyond ‘talent’ and moved towards humans, with actual beating hearts, that sometimes get depression, whose parents and children die, etc. I know it is not the role of HR but it is the role of all of us in the organization — to hold each other’s hand when we need it. Even a hug now and then! Hey…didn’t I see that somewhere on your website Ben! Whose role is it to shape culture inviting humans in and not just automatrons?

    1. Ben Post author

      Hey, Patty! I knew I would get someone to respond, but I wasn’t sure if it would be you or not. :-) I agree that we are there to support the employees (who else is going to do it?!?), and your comments are in line with my own personal views. Isn’t it interesting that the things that our company wants from us and will reward us for as HR professionals is not always what is in the best interests of our employees?

      Definitely worth pondering.

      Thanks for reaching out, Patty!

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  3. Patty Tanji

    Thanks Ben for this and all your thought provoking posts. I was so inspired I decided (was called?) to blog more about the topic. Perhaps your site was pinged since I referenced the post. Keep up the good work.

  4. Frank W.

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think also that its not just what HR departments are doing (or trying to do), but also the way they’re going about it which impacts on their ability to add value to value to the organization. So often I come across HR practitioners who are trying to do the right thing, but really have gotten off on the wrong approach and stayed that course come hell or high water. It can be a bit like CV’s, there’s only one rule, if they’re not working then change it.

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