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Transactional HR Is Not A Four Letter Word

Originally posted: April 5, 2010 on TrishMcFarlane.com

I had a great conversation this week with Mike Haberman of ‘HR Observations’.  Mike is the cofounder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc., an HR and Benefits consulting firm which works primarily with small and mid-size businesses.  He is also a HR instructor at Kennesaw State University Continuing Education.  Mike has found a niche in the HR blogging world by providing analysis of legislation that affects human resources.

Mike Haberman, SPHR

Mike and I met via Twitter and our blogs.  We’ve never met in person, but talking with him was definitely like chatting with a long-lost friend.  We shared stories of our HR careers, our thoughts on legislation that is affecting and will affect HR, how to use social media more effectively, and how to connect with other HR and business leaders.  We also talked about the topic of transactional HR.  We tend to agree that transactional HR is something that should not be completely banished from the HR department or completely outsourced.

The topic of transactional vs. strategic HR keeps coming up because  as professionals, we’re coming to a cross-roads.  Now, I am the first to admit that at this point in my career, the less of the transactional type of HR I can do, the better.  But let me take a moment to say why I think that transactional HR is important.  As you begin your career in HR, whether you are right out of school or you are transferring into the HR department from another line of the business (marketing, internal communications, etc.) it’s important to learn the basics.  I know it’s frustrating to have to handle payroll or benefit questions.  I understand that learning the process of how to go through all the steps of recruiting can be tedious at times.  I “get it” because I’ve been there.  It’s not about paying your dues, it’s about getting those functional skills around the processes of HR firmly set in your knowledge base.  They are the foundation of the career.

I read a good post by Ben Eubanks at Upstart HR  (How To Move Up In HR) that told about his frustrations with what amounts to the transactional side of HR for entry level professionals.  My challenge if you are in that role right now is to just listen and observe.  When you see your manager taking control over a tough employee relations situation, make notes.  Ask to speak to them afterward and question how they knew what approach to take.  You will learn that it is only with years of experience that you begin to understand fully that there are not always right and wrong answers.  Dealing with humans means you cannot predict what will happen.  The day you think you can, you will be proven wrong.  Once you learn that, and fully accept that, you will finally be ready to start applying that knowledge strategically.

If you are already in a leadership position, use that opportunity to begin showing someone more junior to you how and why you make the recommendations you do in employee relations situations.  It will be a good learning opportunity for them in a practical sense and it will help you as a practitioner because you’ll be asked questions that may challenge your way of thinking.  Win/ win.

So, do I want to spend a majority of my time thinking “big thoughts” and being creative?  Absolutely.  Do I still need to handle some of the transactional issues of HR? Absolutely.  My strategic ideas still need that good foundation.  Transactional HR is not a four letter word.  It’s the means to continually learning what is really going on with the employees.

Think I’m wrong?  Think I’m right?  Let me know in the comments.

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