August 7, 2014

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Industry Experts Discuss Importance of Human Resources as a Profession

By Rachel Madison

August 7, 2014

Are people who work in human resources professionals, like doctors and lawyers? That question was a major topic of discussion at Utah Business’ annual HR roundtable Wednesday.

David Cherrington, professor of organizational behavior at Brigham Young University, said doctors, accountants, attorneys and many others consider themselves professionals, and while HR workers want that same recognition, it isn’t always freely given.

“We keep saying we want a seat at the table, that we want to be recognized at the top level of our organization,” he said. “This is an issue that has continued to raise its head for the last 20 years. Are we really professionals?”

Dusty Fenwick, HR director at KLAS Enterprises, said he absolutely feels that HR is a profession, namely because the job requires specialized knowledge.

“Any company that’s had to make a phone call to [an attorney] realizes this. The path they were on maybe took them into some weeds, and some companies don’t realize that until it happens,” he said. “Sometimes we struggle getting those seats and articulating that [we want a seat] because there’s no immediate need.”

Jeff Herring, chief human resources officer at the University of Utah, said it all depends on how HR is being used in an organization. If the role is more transactional—meaning HR workers are taking care of things like payroll and benefits—it’s different than if HR plays a more prominent role.

“If you understand how value is added to business, that’s where you start getting into professional services,” he said. “It’s not a thing to demand a seat at the table, you have to add the value and then the seat naturally comes to the table.”

Sometimes a change in the way HR workers are viewed is needed for companies to understand that value, said David Dyches, business development manager at ISIhr.

“About 80 percent of a company’s expense is in human capital, yet HR people are sometimes viewed more as cops than developers,” he said. “That has to be the transition; not being enforcers, but developers of human capital.”

Marilyn Schenk, HR consultant at Employer Solutions Group, said as businesses continue to become more sophisticated, the roles of HR leaders are also becoming more sophisticated.

“HR leaders need to learn business, and as we learn business and are willing to move ourselves forward, then we’ll be viewed as a profession,” she said. “In the Old West, barbers were dentists; dentistry was not a profession. It grew with the sophistication of society. I think that will and is happening with HR.”

Elizabeth Dunning, partner at Holland & Hart who specializes in employment law, says the HR profession has changed since she first started practicing as an attorney.

“When I started I knew a lot of HR managers who had come from some other part of the company and learned by doing, but I think that day is gone,” she said. “I think HR is a profession. You can’t just move somebody over to learn on the job anymore.”

Jared Olsen, director of operations at Xima Software and past president of Salt Lake SHRM, added that HR practitioners are more often included in company succession planning, where they’re given the opportunity to move up to positions such as COO or CEO, because they understand the company’s key issues.

Cherrington moderated the discussion. The Human Resources Roundtable will appear in the October issue of Utah Business.

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