Work in big corporations long enough and you start to recognize the caste system inherent in the professional community. R&D is indispensable, Manufacturing has to actually make the ideas come to life, and then somebody has to sell it, so Sales becomes critical as well. The “big 3” pillars in a company—discover it, make it, sell it. That leaves a lot of the “rest of us”—the dreaded SG&A. Support functions. Overhead. Don’t fool yourself, Human Resources professional, we’re all just an expense in the eyes of the big brass.
As a result, I always felt somewhat of a kindred spirit with my friends in IT, Finance, Legal, et al. And of course, within HR there’s a special kinship and brotherhood that… hehehe, no, not really. Human Resources has its own version of Lords & Commons, too.
I’ve got 22 years in Human Resources, almost evenly split between the HRBP and Talent Acquisition function. And one thing continually holds true— Staffing/Recruiting/TA is looked at as the tactical, administrative little brother of the HRBP.
How to define the mindset of the HR Business Partner? Pretend Senior Leadership is Don Corleone, running his empire while keeping the other families in check. His consiglieré, Tom Hagen, holds a powerful role as he remains tied to the hip of the Old Man, remaining out of sight unless summoned to take care of some of the dirty work involved with a termination and/or delivery of a horse’s head. Polished and educated, whispering advice as needed. It’s a peach of a role if you can find it.
Go on, admit it. We break into Human Resources via Talent Acquisition, then move up to a more “strategic” role [this is where I risk over “quotating” terms, but how else does one make a snarky reference?]. Hell, that’s what I did. Put in my time filling requisitions, got tapped on the shoulder, and then up the ivory tower I went. Spent the next 10 years in a Business Partner role. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome job, especially at the Senior levels when you’re actually allowed in the Star Chamber with the other important folks. You feel so… necessary.
After 10 years in a corporate BP role, I finally took the leap into lone wolf-dom as a consultant. And a funny thing happened—no matter the high-level strategic initiatives being tossed around the Board Room, the topic invariably ended up in the same place—talent acquisition… how to attract, hire, engage, and retain talent. Whether it was a company of 100 or 100,000, the same issues continually arise. Get. The. Talent.
So, with 10 years of investigations, layoffs, performance improvement plans, and terminations in my rearview mirror, it was time to get back into the front-end of the employee experience. And my, how things had changed.
It’s a war (for talent.) And in times of war, you don’t need Tom Hagen. When you go to the mattresses, it’s time to put Michael in charge. You know, that little brother that used to fetch your coat for you.
The war for talent changed everything. Economic recovery and a generational transition in the workplace put Talent Acquisition at the front of the battle line as it became a candidate-driven market. The role of “Recruiter” is (or should be) the center of the HR Universe: We are the marketers, branders, and brokers for the most important corporate asset. Thanks to advances in HR Technology, we can do more, while doing it faster and better than before. We are the Steve Austin of Human Resources; we’re #WorkplaceScientists now, not just resumé screeners. And we’re just getting started.
Recruiting will continue to dominate the HR function for years to come as Boomers exit and the digital age completely dominates the acquisition of talent. Strategic, innovative, progressive, creative, and indispensable—THAT is Talent Acquisition of the 21st century.
Remember that the next time your HRBP seems a little reticent about sharing information; it’s tough when your little brother outgrows you.
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.