There are two types of American HR departments.

The first is a younger, recruiting-focused department that uses technology to build a case for change. (Does that sound like jargon? Yes, yes it is. These talent-minded pros use jargon to talk about what they do.) They don’t care about reporting to the CHRO or VP of HR because they want to be tied to business metrics and results. You’ll find this department on the coasts and maybe in the more densely populated cities in the Midwest.

The second HR department skews older and focuses on policies/processes to enable the business. Slightly different focus — definitely a different wardrobe — but it’s the same jargon. They don’t offer a concierge-like recruiting or HR experience because they’re not funded to offer that experience. This is a scrappy HR department that keeps the business out of trouble and will bury a body if necessary. You will find this HR department on the coasts, too, but also in the factories and distribution centers across America.

I want to pretend that the first model is better because that’s what my smart friends tell me. That’s also what I read in Harvard Business Review and Forbes. But in as much as I like young people and pretty faces, I also like HR leaders with gravitas and a backbone. Also, I don’t like blocks of people who worship false idols and middle-aged CEOs. Gross.

The second HR model isn’t any better with its bogus rules and regulations. While much of the language used against HR is both sexist and ageist, it can also be true. Anybody who’s ever worked in HR and knows the Bradford Formula will understand that we’re guilty of a crime even if we didn’t create a system of suck.

So here’s what I believe: there are two American HR departments. One considers itself important, and the other that considers itself the best. And as I spend time with more and more HR leaders across the country, I’ve come to believe that neither is right.

But I’m not a total absolutist. Between the consultant-speak and nanny-state, there’s a third way of operating an American HR department. It’s pragmatic and unpretentious. It is contemplative but not afraid of change. And it’s probably more common — and more appreciated — than anyone truly realizes.

The first person who puts a face to that HR movement will be one lucky woman. Heck, it might even be a dude.

I wonder if that face is yours?


  1. Pretty negative view here and I have to disagree. There are a lot of organizations, regardless of geography, working to be proactive and utilize data while remaining true to their roots. What specifically would you change? “Pragmatic and unpretentious” is fairly vague and general. Is there a balance between “old school hustle” and “new school data-driven analysis” that would work?

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