Human Resources Branding

There are few, if any, corporate functions that discuss changing their name as frequently as does human resources. Even those functions that decide to undergo this transformative process usually do so for just a subset of their team.

In marketing, for example, some departments dumped the term market research and have instead begun to use consumer/customer insights. We’ve done this dance within HR as well. Recruiting has become talent acquisition and compensation & benefits has morphed into total rewards.

Yet, despite taking these steps to clarify responsibilities and accountabilities for specific functional areas by re-naming them, many HR leaders and teams still struggle with continuing to use the moniker human resources as the descriptor for the entire department. This is nothing new. We’ve been having this conversation for years. Years!

As a result of this, over the past decade or so, we’ve witnessed numerous CHRO’s assuming the title Chief People Officer. Within just the last few weeks, it was announced that Mark Levy, the HR Leader at Airbnb, would be assuming the title, Global Head of Employee Experience along with a rebrand of the entire HR Department.

There are companies that have taken this out to every level imaginable. Many organizations are using or considering some of the following names for their HR function:

• Human Capital Management
• Employee Management Care Unit
• People Resource Center
• Talent Management
• People and Development
• Human Relations
• Employee Support
• Talent Resources
• People Operations
• Team Member Services

Let’s just stop.

Changing the name of HR without making fundamental changes to what HR does or how we do it won’t make a single bit of difference. We can call ourselves the Happy Magic Bean Fairy Tale Factory (HMBFTF!) but that doesn’t mean we’ll supply magic beans or ensure happy fairy tale endings. 

Tweet: Changing the name of HR w/out making changes to what HR does won’t make a bit of difference. @HRCloud

And sometimes, here’s the reality, our employees are over in another part of the building rolling their eyes and snickering at these names changes. They appear to be all flash and no substance. I had a recent conversation with an IT professional whose company’s HR department, with much fanfare, announced a name change from human resources to human capital management.

Employees were inundated with memo after memo. A rebranded intranet page was launched. Employee meetings were held to communicate the concept: “We ‘invest’ in capital whereas resources are merely used.” The cynicism amongst the employees was high. “They can call themselves whatever they want but HR still seems to stand for human roadblock.” Ouch.

Over the past century we’ve made some dynamic shifts in this name game. Starting off as industrial and labor relations we’ve since been called things ranging from the pay office to the personnel department before we latched on to the name human resources department in the 1980’s.

But is the most important thing deciding what we call ourselves? While I agree that language is important, the deeper issue is what we stand for and how we demonstrate value to internal and external customers through our behaviors and actions. Are we providing a great experience for our candidates and our employees? Are we connecting their capabilities to the goals and strategies of the organization to bring about success for both individual employees and the company? Do we support and empower our employees? Do we care?

Are we, no matter what we call ourselves, being human?

Those, in my estimation, are the questions to which we need to seek answers.

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Robin Schooling

Robin Schooling, SPHR, has 20+ years of HR leadership experience and currently serves as managing director/strategist with Silver Zebras LLC, where she works with organizations to develop integrated HR and talent management strategies.