Why HR Is the Best Function to Handle the Business of People

HR is uniquely qualified to elevate organizations through effective people strategies.

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP May 16, 2018

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

​When HR professionals gathered in Chicago for #SHRM18 in June, there was a heightened sense of excitement in the air. Many of us were awakening to the idea that there has never been a more electrifying, rewarding moment to be in the HR profession. 

When the #MeToo movement was breaking out last year, we kept hearing cries of “Where was HR?” That reaction may be irritating to us practitioners (who, of course, never went away), but it’s not necessarily a criticism. Look at it this way: They weren’t asking “Where was legal?” They understood that the “people issues” dominating the headlines—such as harassment, pay equity and inclusion—are cultural in nature and are firmly in the wheelhouse of HR. 

When I talk to CEOs across industries these days, it is apparent that they get it now: “People matter” is not just a feel-good message. Accessing human capital is now harder than accessing financial capital. Growth is more likely to be limited by talent than by cash.

At the same time, the world of work is experiencing a demographic “perfect storm,” with a confluence of trends colliding to make talent acquisition the riskiest endeavor an organization can undertake. Failure is not an option. A 3.9 percent unemployment rate means there is a job for everyone who wants to work. The problem for employers, of course, is that however willing, much of America’s workforce is not skilled up and ready to meet the demand. Naturally, organizations turn to HR to innovate solutions to the talent crisis that will sustain the lifeblood of profits and productivity.

So, it would seem the HR profession has it made, right? We’re poised for growth and a higher level of prestige. Leaders are telling us that HR functions sincerely matter. 

But consider this thought: Is the HR profession the only one that can perform the function of finding talent? Handling a sticky employee matter? Keeping workforces engaged? It’s not unreasonable for leaders to conclude that the work we do can efficiently be divided up and performed by other “specialists.” Already, we are seeing the rise of chief talent officers who report directly to the CEO. Misconduct investigations are often delegated to legal departments. 

In a rapidly changing world, the HR profession must be viewed as the best function to handle the business of people. And leadership must have enough trust in us to guide our organizations through such tumultuous times. To elevate our profession, we must show that nothing and no one can substitute for our unique expertise. 

When will we know we have succeeded? When organizations don’t want to make a move without consulting us, and when leaders are confident to stand back and let HR do HR. We have exciting but challenging work ahead of us to meet this unique moment as a profession. 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is the CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Photograph by Delane Rouse for HR Magazine. 

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