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Is HR (as a job category) dead?

3 min read


Recently, I was entering candidates into our database and came across the title “vice president of people and culture.” Because our system has a finite number of job categories, I was forced to choose “human resources” for this particular individual. Doing so just felt wrong because in my mind there’s clearly a difference.

This got me thinking: Is HR as a job category going away? Are we moving away from titles such as “vice president of human resources?” More and more, I’m seeing titles reflect words like “people” and “culture” and “talent” versus the traditional human resources. And while I certainly understand this trend, it’s important not to simply replace one with the other.

To me, “human resources” still reflects the function of managing personnel, from recruitment and onboarding to performance and compensation. As industry experts might suggest, HR is more transactional than strategic.

“People” and “culture,” on the other hand, represent the broader workforce from which a company draws its value. I’m not sure when business and HR leaders began to make this distinction, but it seems to have taken hold in many organizations — for good reason. In today’s competitive job market, where employers are seeking the best talent to create competitive advantage, a company’s people and culture can make a big difference. In fact, at Riviera Partners, we strongly believe that cultural fit is a critical component to talent acquisition and retention — and overall company success.

Therefore, it makes sense to have a leader (e.g., director or VP) oversee this important area if he or she truly is focused on understanding and driving culture, versus simply sporting a new title but still managing the more transactional HR.

Speaking of — someone still needs to manage job descriptions, offer letters, regulatory and compliance issues, payroll, and other functions that typically fall under HR.

In answering my own questions, I don’t believe HR as a job category is dead. However, the evolving business environment and workplace necessitates a different way to look at human capital as a core asset of a company. This is especially true in today’s ultra-transparent society, where information about a company’s culture can spread like wildfire on social media to the benefit or detriment of the organization.

HR (or people or culture or talent) organizations must address new generations of candidates who have different views and expectations of employment, focusing on hiring those who fit the company and keeping them motivated to perform.

I suppose there’s really no right or wrong answer, in terms of titles. It’s all in how you view your organization and what you want from your HR or talent acquisition function and initiatives.

Michael A. Morell is a founding and managing partner for Riviera Partners, a leading provider for technical search and recruiting services in Silicon Valley and nationally. He has more than 15 years of experience in recruiting, technology sales and management. Morell focuses on recruiting executive-level talent in the areas of engineering and product management, and also has operational responsibility for Riviera’s contingency search practice, which focuses on individual contributor level roles within engineering organizations. Follow him on Twitter.