I work with three generations of HR professionals.

There are people over the age of 45 who feel as if they’ve changed human resources. Sure, HR has a bad reputation. But Josh Bersin and Dave Ulrich would approve of their new HR practices. In fact, screw Josh and Dave. A lot of their ideas are bogus, anyway. This group of HR leaders know how to get work done with multiple constituencies—boards, executives and employees.

The second group is aged 30-44 who are doing the work, doing it daily and wonder if this job is for them. They love human resources. They see the logic behind the policies, and they think—if only adults acted like adults, this ship would be tighter.

The final group are the dreamers, those under the age of 30, who think that HR has the power to change the world. Technology is just the beginning. It’s love and hope and bravery on steroids.

Now, those are huge generalizations. However, I would just say one thing: HR professionals really do fall into these three categories.

I’m fascinated with and challenged by the oldest group of HR leaders. I just read a quote from a VP of staffing who said that she doesn’t trust anyone until she’s worked with that person for six months. Someone a little younger might say, “Aren’t you a staffing expert? Why hire someone you don’t trust? You made a bad hire. And maybe it’s you.”

The second cohort is interesting, too. I know two dozen former HR colleagues, all under the age of 40, who started talent advisory and consulting firms. They looked at the future of HR and said, “No thanks. I can do better on my own.” It may be why SHRM has to look internationally instead of nationally to grow its numbers. Rumor has it that they lose two members for every new member who signs up.

And I’ve worked with enough young HR professionals and students to know that they have an appetite for change. They believe that work defines you because they watch TV and movies. Work is fun. It’s family without the dysfunctional DNA!

Those three generations of HR professionals really do exist, and I guess that I would just ask you to consider where you are and how you might break stereotypes.

* If you’re young, would it kill you to put on the breaks and be a little cynical? Slowing down might help you see the forest for the trees.
* If you’re mid-career, be patient. Maybe don’t dream of opening your own consulting firm. (That’s a boring dream. Dream bigger.) And being your own boss can suck, too.
* And if you’re old, stop taking credit for transforming HR. The job still sorta sucks, and nobody believes you.

Not Josh Bersin or Dave Ulrich, anyway.


  1. Great read. I suppose the Under 30 category fits me, though as I near 32, I consider myself a “millennial who walks the line” which is fitting for my identity of neither here nor there, qualities in a variety of my life. And was linking it to a conversation I had with Daniel Epstein (CEO of Unreasonable Institute) and their mission is to help entrepreneurs that seek to change the lives of at least 1 million. With my consulting soloproneurship, I am sticking to this question: “How can my brand (Human Side of Tech) positively change the lives of 1,000,000 or more?” Now, that, is something worth getting up for every morning.

    Could we pose this to HR professionals of all ages – how can your work change the life of 1m?

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