Why isn’t HR sexy?

The latest HR blog carnival is over on Jon Ingham’s site. (I wouldn’t let Jon anywhere near my office until he promised to stop doing his impression of The Fonz – see the avatar in the bottom right corner of his blog.)

Anyway, there is plenty of good stuff on the carnival but one piece caught my eye. Jessica Lee at Fistful of Talent (what a great name for a blog) complains that HR just isn’t sexy enough.

Before my first “office job,” when I thought about the business world, I thought… Marketing – sexy. International finance – sexy. Investment banking – really sexy. Human resources – huh? The profession of HR never crossed my mind, and I’m not sure if I would venture to call it sexy even today.

Well, yes, maybe. Some jobs like marketing, PR and advertising may be intrinsically sexy because they are perceived to offer exciting and glamorous work. Others, like investment banking, are only sexy because they pay lots of money. Some very highly paid City jobs, especially those involving derivatives and other complex financial instruments, are filled by geeky maths graduates who spend most of their time number crunching. Take away the huge salaries and these jobs are very unsexy.

I also wonder why people in Finance don’t worry about their profession being more sexy. Perhaps for the same reason that you never hear them say things like “Finance must be aligned to the business strategy”. They just take it as read and take their seats at the top tables as a matter of right.

People who worry too much about being sexy usually aren’t. As I have said before, this kind of introspection is what stops HR people being powerful. No other business function beats itself up in quite the same way.

I much prefer Dan McCarthy’s approach:

For about the last 20 years, I’ve heard a lot of whining from training and HR folks about wanting to “have a seat at the table”. We love to flog ourselves about why we stink , and to criticize our executives about having their heads up their behinds for not recognizing how important we could be.

I know, I used to do the same thing. And I also spent time “marketing” my training team, conducting phony ROI studies, and taking on any scrap assignment thrown my way as a way to prove our worth and “earn” a seat at the all important table.

Well, I’ve learned over the years that if you want a seat at the table, you need to assume it’s yours, just barge in, and take it. Grab a cookie, have a seat, pour a glass of water, and contribute to the success of the business. Executives aren’t stupid people – if you have something substantial to offer, they listen.

That’s what Finance and Marketing Directors have been doing for years – and I bet most of them never stop to think about whether or not they are sexy.

That said, Jessica makes some good suggestions, such as not using employment law to justify your existence, becoming a shameless self promoter and, most importantly in my view, not colluding when people have a go at HR. She also criticises SHRM which, if the comments of American HR bloggers are anything to go by, is even less dynamic and forward looking than our equivalent, the CIPD.

But while I agree with these points, I feel that Jessica has the argument arse about face. HR does not need to become more sexy to gain more power and influence. It needs to gain more power and influence if it is to become more sexy.

In the end HR will only win power in organisations if those currently in the profession are prepared to be more bullish about what they do. HR could be more sexy but to become so, it must stop apologising for its existence and fight its corner.

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6 Responses to Why isn’t HR sexy?

  1. Jessica Lee says:

    greetings rick! and yes, SHRM is just about as sexy as CIPD.

    for me, making HR sexy is not about getting a seat at the table or trying to make the profession more strategic. i just think there’s a serious lack of appeal for the profession. i’m not looking for more power or influence – i think in organizations who get it, and for great HR pros, we’re there and we’ve got those things already.

    i want for the profession on the whole to be elevated though and for people to better understand what it is we do, and how we do it, and why the old notions of “personnel administration” just don’t apply anymore. i also worry about HR being un-sexy because i want for those looking to cement a career in the biz world to better understand the field, why it can be sooo great, and hopefully then, the cream of the crop will choose HR rather than falling into it, like me. i’d like to see more of the best and brightest actually making the decision for this to be their career path – but the profession has got to have some sex appeal.

    i know the un-sexy will continue to find their way to HR and likely have long, long careers in the field – there’s no way to completely rid ourselves of them… i guess it’s just like how you can never completely get the large-and-in-charge gents to stop wearing their speedos and bikinis to the beach. there will always be those brazen few who are out there in all their glory… but, if bit by bit we can start better influencing and bringing greater appeal to what we do… then i’ll be happy.

    thanks for linking to the post and your thoughts on getting sexy.

  2. Jon Ingham says:

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for the link and contribution. Much appreciated – I’ll even let you off re your comment on my avatar (which is much cooler than the fonz).

    I think I agree with both you and Jessica – rather than talking about it we just need to be strategic – in fact I think we largely are more strategic than often is acknowledged – see my thoughts on an earlier carnival – http://strategic-hcm.blogspot.com/2008/05/hr-carnival-33.html).

    But we do need to be more sexy too (or again, we already are – we just need to help others, and sometimes ourselves see that we are).

    Hence pitching the carnival as a celebration of our strategic sexiness or sexy strategicness – personally I don’t think it matters that much whether being strategic (ie having power and influence) or sexiness (ie being interesting and attractive) comes first. They both support each other.

  3. HR Wench says:

    Can I just say that CIPD sounds like a disease? I know nothing about the organization but the acronym cracks me up. “John’s mom was just diagnosed with CIPD. She has 6 months to live!”

  4. Jez says:

    I’m intrigued by the idea of PR as being “intrinsically sexy”. Yes, it attracts a lot of PR luvvie air-heads who think that it’s glamorous but, as someone who’s done it for more than twenty years, I can tell you that (when it’s done properly) it’s an extremely tough, and stressful profession to be in. When you’re under constant, often personal, attack by journalists and the results of your activities appear on the front page of a newspaper, any thoughts of glamour go out of the window.

    Like HR, it often attracts the wrong sort of people: PR attracts the Ab Fab stereotypes who would drown if they had to deal with the sort of shit I deal with every day; HR often attracts those who “like to work with people” who again are often completely unsuited to the real hard-nosed HR environment which requires them not just to be nice to everyone.

    Sexy it ain’t. But don’t think for a minute that being sexy would get HR or PR to the top table. That’s the wrong way round – the sexiness will come from being there, form being in a position of real influence, and that will only come through hard graft and strategic contribution.

  5. Rick says:

    Jez – maybe ‘intrinsically sexy’ is a bit strong but you have to admit, even when the journalists are a pain in the arse, which I’m sure the odd one is, dealing with them is probably more exciting than crunching numbers into a spreadsheet.

    I agree with your overall point though, and don’t get me started on the I-want-to-work-with-people-but-social-work-pays-crap-wages-so-I-will-try-HR types.

    Jessica – what makes the brightest and best avoid HR? It’s seen as frustrating, a dumping ground for organisational crap and as a function that gets slagged off by everyone else. Isn’t more HR people elbowing their way onto the top table the best way to deal with that?

  6. Pingback: Women are paid less because they work in HR « Flip Chart Fairy Tales

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