Employee Engagement

How the HR department went from compliance police to talent management coaches

HR is evolving into a function that helps leaders motivate and manage the workforce. It has been decades in the making.
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· 4 min read

As HR teams continue to adapt to, ugh, quiet quitting, quiet firing, bare minimum Mondays, rage applying, and whatever quippy trend is next, the profession has had to rapidly adjust to everything that comes with post-pandemic employees’ changing attitudes toward work.

Understanding the value propositions that human resources offered businesses in the past can help current HR pros understand the ongoing transformation and adapt in a way that’s valuable to the business.

We’re having a moment. John Boudreau, professor emeritus of management and organization at USC’s Marshall School of Business, told HR Brew that the pandemic is a “tectonic event in how aware and how prominent the thinking about the work relationship is.”

Paycor CHRO Paaras Parker agrees. “I think it’s a moment…Maybe we could say it’s the moment now...There’s going to be another moment in 18 months and then there’s going to be another one in 18 months [after that]. I think our moments are happening faster.”
Parker said HR pros used to have years to work out new adaptations to societal shifts, but now there’s a much “shorter runway.”Parker pointed to childcare and elder care needs during the pandemic as an example, suggesting companies quickly had to assess the needs of their employees who took care of children or aging relatives and design solutions for them.

“It’s not that the employer wasn’t caring for that before, [but] we didn’t have that obstacle to cater to before because we had daycare centers [and] kids were physically going to school,” she said. “I think that physical need changed on such a magnitude that we had to take that data and make changes to reflect the new emerging needs of our employees.”

HR beyond compliance. Boudreau said compliance and governance were historically some of the most foundational and fundamental value propositions HR teams offer a business. The personnel department worked to make sure the company followed employment laws and regulations and created the procedures for how the company did just about everything.

“HR was originally created as kind of a compliance value proposition,” he said, “and then evolved, certainly over the 80s…and probably the 90s, you saw an evolution toward this service model.”

That service model is also still at the core of what HR does today. HR teams provide services and programs to the company and its employees: a recruiting program, compensation program, or employee experience programs, for example.

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“We are in service to our leadership and service to our employees,” he said. “The way you tell if we’re doing good service is if people use and like the programs we offer.”

Steering the ‘talentship.’ Boudreau describes “decision support” and “decision improvement” as the newest value proposition HR is offering a business, but the function is still evolving. This is an area he suggested was so new when he first began to study it, he (and coauthor Peter Ramstad) invented a word for it: talentship.

“That third value proposition is more subtle,” Boudreau said. “But it has to do with whether HR is improving the decisions that leaders and managers (and even employees themselves)…make about the relationship they have with the organization, about the strategic value of the talent resources in an organization.”

HR pros are outlining “decision frameworks” for execs rather than simply creating programs or policies in service of employees or making sure a company’s policy is compliant, according to Boudreau. This is aligned with where Parker sees Paycor’s people philosophy. Her role in HR is to help guide leaders to best manage their people.

“HR becomes the more strategic muscle that helps leaders learn how to do that, [and] serves as a coach or guide for them if they don’t know how to do it.” she said. “But it’s not pure-play HR’s responsibility to hire, fire, promote. It’s how we empower and help people within the business build that muscle.”

Parker says a company using its HR strategy from 20 years ago won’t move the business forward, but rather its ability to “motivate, influence, educate, engage your workforce faster” is going to help the bottom line.

With the ongoing changes to HR, Parker thinks now is the most exciting time to be in the field because strategy and frameworks around motivating and maximizing the workforce continue to be refined.

Parker even predicts among the class of HR professionals working right now are the future leaders of corporate America.

“It’s a great time for people starting out,” she said. “Those are the folks that are going to make great general managers, great project integrators, the great product managers of the future.”

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.