Like too few of my colleagues in Human Resources, I actually fell into an HR “Business Partner” role after years in other positions. Ten years of sales, overlapped with management, operations, and training, then recruiting, then somehow I found myself in the HR suite in my early 30’s.
What I found, to my benefit, was that my past job experience offered me an advantage in credibility, perspective, and ability to relate to the leaders with whom I was assigned to support. It really shouldn’t be too hard to realize why, but the fact was somehow lost on my peers, most of who had been in an HR function for their entire professional careers.
Sales and Marketing, above all, is a difficult department to infiltrate. I was given Global Sales as my first business unit to support, almost by default. Salespeople, and especially sales managers, are reluctant to seek counsel from someone who has never carried the bag. It’s a brotherhood (and sisterhood) based on the experience of being subjected to quotas,
rejection, and achievements (or lack thereof) that are visible to the entire corporate world. Rankings, standings, “President’s Club” winners, performance improvement plans (PIP’s), plaques – there’s no hiding in Sales, you either make your number, or you leave the game.
So, throw that dynamic into a Sales/Human Resources working relationship. The names Felix & Oscar come to mind; or, worse is the perception of “Company Cop” – I always hated that term, and was determined to not be the conversation killer when entering a room. My path to a partnership to sales was littered with the empty shells of HR Managers before me – bullied, beaten, and then discarded.
My secret weapon? Easy – dumb luck. Having fought in the trenches myself, I could speak the language, share war stories, and have a general understanding of the challenges faced by salespeople and their managers. Any advantages you have in the ways of communicating with your client are critical.
The moral of the story? If you do have a desire to work in Human Resources, you’re much better served by working in a functional role outside of HR before making the leap. Policies and procedures can be read by anyone, what you need to do is live it first.
So hit me, whose moccasins are you wearing?
John Whitaker (“Whit”) is a SVP and Chief People Officer at Sage Dental and the founder of HRHardball.com (2008). He specializes in building and developing strong recruiting teams who are unafraid of “kicking the ant pile.” Like most Texans, he loves to tell a story (especially those that include an armadillo or a poker game) and cutting through the chaff…don’t take it personal.