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Human Resources is HUMAN, isn’t it?

I was caught by surprise several months ago when I was presenting to a group of HR professionals about Social Media and HR. I was making a case for why HR has an instrumental role in helping organizations navigate the waters of social media, and one of my arguments was what I feel is an obvious connection between Social Media and HR. Social Media campaigns – the really successful ones – are all about listening, connecting, and engaging. Who better to lead these types of practices than HR? After all, that’s what we do, right? I remember looking around the room at my HR colleagues, and although some of the people there were nodding enthusiastically, there were several frowns of disagreement.

Later, I wrote a blog post about this obvious connection, and when I shared it, I was faced with several arguments against my point. Several people stated that, in their experience, HR professionals were not the best at listening, connecting, or engaging people. They saw HR as bureaucratic, disconnected from the business and the people, and very closed-minded and unaccepting of change or innovation.

Once I picked up the broken pieces of my shattered perception of the HR profession, I looked at this argument more objectively. I started seeing where my own experience and passion had clouded my view. You see, I started my career in operations and later got into training and HR. As an HR manager, I continued to be a part of the operations team, and became the conduit between the people and the programs we rolled out. I felt responsible for continuing to be connected to the employees in our restaurants, for listening to their ideas and concerns and for connecting them to our leaders and our promotions and programs through two way communication and training. This continued to be part of what I did throughout my career in Human Resources roles in other organizations over the past 15 years.

But when I think about it, I realize that I didn’t always fit in with some of the other HR people. While many of them were brilliant at employment law, writing policy and developing detailed processes for the administrative side of the business, I often found they had trouble relating to the reality of the businesses they worked in, and didn’t see how what they did had an impact. I worked for some retail and foodservice organizations where some of my colleagues had actually never set foot into one of our stores or restaurants or spoken to someone on the front lines. This, to me, was a huge problem.

As I’ve met hundreds of business leaders over the past year, I have realized that HR’s reputation is often that of the secret-keepers and naysayers in the company. Rather than creating innovative ways to allow more freedom and collaboration, HR often balks at the possibility of loss of control and the risk of giving power to the masses. At two HR conferences I attended this year, keynote speakers spoke about Human Resources being the biggest roadblock to innovation in organizations.

This perception makes me sad. And a little angry. And I want to change it.

Over the past few years, I’ve been diving into the waters of social media, and have had the opportunity to connect, through twitter, with diverse people whom I would never have met otherwise. I’ve had the extreme pleasure of meeting progressive HR leaders like Bonni Titgemeyer and others who contribute to this blog. I’ve learned about social technology that HR and business can use to create connection within the workplace, and I’ve met leaders who have implemented social technology with amazing impact on employee and customer engagement and business results. I met Christine McLeod from British Columbia, whom I’ve partnered with to produce Impact99 HR Summit, which is all about igniting a social workplace for deeper connection and engagement within organizations.

These are only a few of the hundreds of people I’ve met through the use of social media, who are helping to change the perception of Human Resources. These progressive HR leaders have renewed my love of our profession. As technology continues to evolve and our workforce continues to expect us to trash our old traditional processes and rules, we need to understand how technology can help rather than hinder this connection. We need to connect ourselves, our employees and our business. We need to help our organizations become more social, collaborative, and connected. After all, human resources is about being HUMAN, isn’t it?

I welcome your thoughts – and would also love to have you join me at Impact99 in October.


  1. Great post Pam- sometimes I think “HR” struggles with the same “Image” problem that “Accountants” do- dry, systems minded, not very creative.

    Like you, I can count in the dozens and dozens and dozens people who don’t remotely fit that stereotype- individually we don’t stand out- we need to find those places to gather (virtually and in person) where there is strength and inspiration in numbers!
    cheers to the HR renegades out there moving the dial

    • So true – I think the role of HR has really evolved over the past 15-20 years, and there are many of us who don’t fit the old stereotype.
      It is so exciting to meet other innovative HR pros, and I look forward to continuing to connect and be inspired by my peers every day!

  2. I must say that I find Human Resources the least human group in most of the companies I have worked for. Perhaps it is because I have worked with you and have thought highly of your approach that I too try to learn and understand the operations side of the companies I work in.

    None of my HR Managers/Directors have been supportive or encouraging of it. Which unfortunately shows when policies and programs are developed and approved. The most common things I hear when a new policy or program goes live is “this has nothing to do with us” from employees.

    I frequently try to find new and different ways to learn the businesses I’m in, partnering with willing managers and employees to try to understand what their daily stressors are and how I can help alleviate them or at the very least, not be one.

    But I will agree, most of my experiences in my nearly 10 yrs of HR, is that Human Resources has forgotten the Humans. I look forward to the changes that are coming about and hope I can help further them!!

    • Yes – that disconnect between HR in the “ivory tower” and employees is a culture killer in a lot of organizations. I’ve always been very passionate about understanding the business and how the people practices can make a positive impact on results.
      There’s no doubt that there is a new era for HR and you will certainly be a part of it!

  3. Pam,

    I just stumbled on your article – which is absolutely on point. My belief is that anyone in HR must be visible…so that means leaving your office and chatting with employees so you keep your “ear to the ground”…This is the way, I believe that you build credibility and relationships throughout the organization — whereby coaching and influencing change become an easy part of our mandate.

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