People choose HR as a career for many reasons. Many are driven by their desire to help people. It’s hotly debated whether that’s a good way to choose your job. Dawn Sharifan, Head of People at Slack and Adjunct Professor at San Francisco State University weighs in on the debate, and the changing face of HR.
Dawn Sharifan is recognized as an outstanding HR leader and educator, with well over a decade of experience. “I think that HR is a craft, it is a joy. When the stars align, it is a true opportunity to impact the business and someone’s life, in a really key way,” she says.
“The thing that I’m most proud of in my career is from when I was just a baby HR person and I worked in benefits. I worked for months to get someone a lung. The day that I was able to go that person and say, ‘I’ve got your lung’, is still one of the most proud days of my entire life. When the stars align and you can do something like that, it can be more impactful and meaningful than any other experience that I know.”
Although that moment stuck with Sharifan, as all HR professionals will know, events like that are few and far between. “You have to get your motivation and your drive from really connecting to the business,” she says. “If you are going into HR for the people, I actually think it’s an okay reason to join HR; but I think it’s not the reason to stay in HR.
“People that are helpers tend to gravitate towards this profession. I tell my class that people will disappoint you, and you have to be doing it for the right reasons, and not for the thank you. You have to do it because it’s the right thing to do. You have to do it because you’re building a culture. You have to do it because you’re helping the business in some way. But you can’t do it for the people because it will break your heart. And if you are burnt out, you cannot be effective in your role.”
HR is a craft
There are some great HR people who made their way up the ranks from Receptionist or Office Manager, and some perform all three roles. Whilst many do a great job, they’re sometimes perceived as not adding value or being a party-planner, explains Sharifan. “Then you have these people that go into HR that want to be the Police, or that want to be the Principal. And they want to enforce all of these rules. So, like any profession you have a wide spectrum of people and you hope that everyone is fantastic and wonderful.”
The reality is that there’s a broad range of capabilities and motivations, and although some people think anyone can do HR, that’s not the case. “You get a lot of people that don’t feel like they need a lot of training or craft and coupled with that most people’s experience of HR is in a very stressful and frequently negative time. Maybe they’re getting fired, maybe they’re getting laid-off. Maybe their insurance isn’t covering some medical care, or a prescription that their child needs. And, HR is the face of that.”
Overcoming negative perceptions of HR professionals is something Sharifan has dealt with herself. “I had to go through an evolution in my career, where, especially in Silicon Valley, I didn’t feel shame and didn’t apologize for being an HR person. To really embrace the idea that HR is a craft and of value and that I am absolutely in the most amazing career and right craft for me,” she shares.
Future of Work
More and more though, Sharifan sees HR professionals being taken seriously, and CEOs recognizing their value. More and more often the head of HR reports directly to the CEO, and does less paperwork and more strategic work. “I honestly think that most of the operational and day-to-day HR stuff will either be replaced by technology, or outsourced to third-parties in most companies, in the next 10 to 15 years,” says Sharifan. “I think that the real HR work will be in organizational development, learning and development, coaching. I think that will be the next wave of HR.”
Sharifan also muses on how these services will be structured, “The thing that will be interesting to see, and I’m not sure yet, is if there will officially even be an HR team. I think there should be. But, I can also see a future where a lot of that is done under operational umbrella. And the L&D or O.D. work is either closely aligned to a business unit, or a leader.”