A day in the life of an HR practitioner

Unlike law and accounting, HR has few predefined ‘workflows’

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

Because I have a legal background — and because I work at Carswell, which publishes for the legal, tax and accounting, and HR markets — I often think about the differences between HR and those other professions.

To me, most of those differences can be summed up by saying that, in HR, there really is no such thing as a typical day or a typical HR role — or even a typical HR professional for that matter.

That’s quite different from lawyers who have predetermined workflows and processes for conducting legal research, and are governed by the rules of civil and criminal procedure. Similarly, accountants are governed by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Now, of course, some people would argue there are many different types of lawyers, and a civil litigation lawyer’s workflows differ substantially from those of a real estate or criminal lawyer. There are also obvious differences across jurisdictions and even from one firm to another.

But, by and large, civil litigators, for example, generally follow the same processes when conducting legal research or drafting a statement of claim or defence.

Every HR role is different

But we in HR are very different since it often seems like no two HR roles are alike. Because of that, many people have a difficult time understanding what HR actually does. Organizations that develop products and services for the HR market also sometimes have trouble being generic enough when attempting to document what’s called a DITLOC — a “day in the life of a customer.”

The whole concept of “workflows” seems almost alien when considering the work of HR professionals (except possibly when analyzing workflows with respect to other jobs when doing job and organizational design work). That’s because the work of HR is so incredibly diverse.

Every HR role is different, across different industries and organizations. And even one HR practitioner's work can vary tremendously from one day to the next.

I believe that makes HR more interesting as a profession. Because there’s so much diversity of tasks and accountabilities, there’s never a dull moment in the work lives of many HR practitioners.

And while some people might argue our lack of predetermined workflows is reflective of the transactional, firefighting mode we often operate within, I would argue quite the opposite. To me, the fact we have few documented workflows means we've become strategic enough that in many cases we can't boil down what we do sufficiently into processes or predefined tasks.

That’s especially true for someone in a more senior or generalist type role, as opposed to someone in a highly specialized or transactional role. I suppose there’s a certain element of je ne sais quoi surrounding many HR roles. Even the question of whom we’re ultimately there to serve — the organization or its employees — can shift and is sometimes up for debate.

Not research-intensive

One of the reasons we have few predefined workflows in HR is because HR generally isn’t perceived to be a research-intensive profession like law. That’s not to say HR practitioners don’t need to research information for a program they’re developing or an employee termination they’re handling (there is, of course, a certain amount of overlap between the work performed by some HR professionals and employment lawyers), but we seldom do the same type of research lawyers conduct on a regular basis.

Nevertheless, it’s important to realize that a greater element of standardization could be beneficial for the HR profession in many ways. Of course, HR best practices can help in that regard (although, as I explored a few weeks ago, HR best practices aren’t always universally accepted). And provincial HR associations do create codes of ethics, practice standards and rules of professional conduct.

But is something more granular required? Would it help junior practitioners in particular if common HR-related tasks were outlined in step-by-step fashion by considering and embedding operational efficiencies, best practices and legal compliance?

Or, would financial, operational, strategic and jurisdictional factors always militate against the creation of such standardized workflows? And would we be handcuffing ourselves as a profession if we had something prescriptive telling us, for example, “This is how you do succession planning?”

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com. 

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