CareerIn an HR career, you have three key areas of concern: the business, the employee, and the HR field itself. We usually gravitate toward specializing in the area where we have the most interest. For example, if you chose a career in HR because you want to help people, you might develop a specialty in employee benefits.

HR professionals often experience conflicting priorities over the course of a day or even within the same hour. According to Anne Sandberg in HR Bureaucrats, Bleeding Hearts and Nerds, HR professionals face three critical questions when making decisions:

  1. Does it make business sense?
  2. Is it right?
  3. Is it theoretically sound?

The first question addresses the interests of the organization. These HR career decisions are business-centered – protect the business from litigation, improve business effectiveness and profits, filling job openings, and processing paperwork.

In the second question, “right” means respectful of employees, free of discrimination and favoritism, an impartial and safe environment. It is employee-centered and revolves around the fair and compassionate treatment of everyone.

“Theoretically sound” means that it aligns with the knowledge we have about the science of human behavior in the workplace. There is a wealth of knowledge and research around theories and methodologies in the HR field.

Competing Priorities

Of course, these areas overlap and often compete for our attention. I’d be very surprised if, over the course of your HR career, you never have a leader who focuses only on the administrative areas of HR, such as time-to-hire metrics, turnover rates, payroll, benefits, insurance, worker’s compensation, etc.

Then there’s the eternal HR career conflict – company vs. employees. Is HR’s goal to protect the organization or support its employees? In truth, it’s both. According to Liz Ryan in the Forbes article Whose Side Is HR On?, we need to rise above the seeming conflict and realize there are no sides. It’s mutually beneficial for the business and the employees to work together to achieve success.

Ryan asserts that you build good energy at work by creating a high-trust environment for employees by showing that the organization cares about its employees through both words and actions of the organization’s leadership. HR is crucial to achieving the fair and flexible policies that make an organization healthy.

“HR’s role is to make an organization a fantastic place to work. You will never worry about lawsuits or disputes with employees if you build a trusting culture and treat employees the way you want to be treated.”  Liz Ryan article

In addition to the “company vs. employees” tug-of-war, we have our own internal preferences trying to get our attention. Some people favor studying and working with the principles, theories, and methodologies in HR field. If you like to immerse yourself in philosophy and research, you might be tempted to focus more on theory than on decisions that make business sense and/or support employees.

Finding the Balance

The first step to achieving greater balance to be more successful in our HR careers is to recognize our internal preferences. Then we need to be willing to recognize the value of all three areas: business, employees, and the HR field. We tend to over-value the viewpoint that best fits our interests. Finally, ask yourself the three critical questions and make sure your solutions address each area when you make decisions. Balancing our perspective will lead to a more successful HR career.

Want to know more about which area of interest is the best fit for you? Visit my website at or email me at to discuss how you can find out about the best fit for you and the traits you need to succeed.




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