When did HR arrive as a profession? (Editor’s notes)

About 10:30 a.m. on a Thursday
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/21/2007

Anyone who thinks the HR profession hasn’t yet “arrived” should have spent some time at the Four Seasons hotel in downtown Toronto on a rainy Thursday morning in March.

That’s where the 2007 Top Employer Summit, put on by the publishers of

Canada’s Top 100 Employers

and sponsored by

Canadian HR Reporter

, was being held. The lineup of speakers at the conference was impressive. Among the ranks that morning were former prime minister Joe Clark, current Liberal Leader Stephen Dion and Toronto Mayor David Miller. Oh yeah, and a fellow named Al Gore.

Granted, one could argue, with some legitimacy, that most, if not all, of the above speakers were lured in by Gore, not by the opportunity to speak to HR professionals. To quote one conference attendee I spoke with after his speech, Gore is a “rock star.” The former U.S. vice-president, known for being wooden and drab during his eight years in office as Bill Clinton’s sidekick in the 1990s, has grabbed the spotlight like no other. His movie,

An Inconvenient Truth

, recently won an Oscar. And he’s up for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Everyone, from movie stars to politicians (with the exception of a few Republicans south of the border), wants to rub shoulders with the guy. It’s hard to imagine a more high-profile keynote speaker. Which brings me back to my point about HR’s arrival.

Gore obviously wasn’t lured by the other high-profile speakers. A cynic might argue Gore came for the money (I have no idea how much, or even if, he was paid), but he can write his own ticket at the moment so that theory doesn’t quite hold up. There is no shortage of organizations and conferences lining up to give him big money, with the hopes he’ll show up and give his presentation about climate change.

That leaves just one conclusion to be drawn — he was lured by the audience, by the opportunity to speak to some of the best HR professionals at the best organizations in Canada. The fact he chose to attend this conference speaks volumes about the state of the HR profession.

HR professionals are, after all, in a bit of a unique position. They’re champions of doing the right thing. Just look at the basic tenet of good HR — treat employees right, and they’ll be more loyal, engaged and productive. That almost always translates into a healthy bottom line. Gore said it was “great to have an opportunity to focus on how to do well and do good at the same time.”

Isn’t that what HR does, or tries to do, all the time? Good HR is all about exactly what Gore is preaching — sustainability. Workers, especially top talent, are a scarce resource. Chewing them up, spitting them out and wasting them can have serious negative repercussions for organizations, just as doing the same to natural resources has led to environmental problems for the planet.

The basic message behind

An Inconvenient Truth

isn’t that progress needs to grind to a halt, or that everyone needs start hugging trees in order to save the planet. It’s that we have to be much smarter about how we act, we have to think about the consequences of our actions and figure out better, more sustainable ways to do things. The repercussions for not doing so are disastrous for the environment and, from an employer’s perspective, the bottom-line health of organizations.

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