From “Personnel” to Strategic Partner. The Evolution of Human Resources!

From “Personnel” to Strategic Partner. The Evolution of Human Resources!

by Jeanne Knutzen | August 12, 2016

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The PACE Staffing Network has been around 40 years – long enough to experience the changing role of Human Resources in the local business and professional community.   As the Northwest Human Resources Association prepares to host 900 HR professionals for their annual conference in Bellevue early September, we are taking a moment to reflect on the changes in the HR profession we’ve personally experienced over our 40 years.

Remember “Personnel”?

Showing our age, it’s amusing to remember that back when PACE first began, there was no HR, only PERSONNEL.  Typically “personnel” was made up of one or two administrative employees responsible  to hand out applications to potential hires,  insurance forms to new employees, help with payroll on Fridays,  and occasionally shake a finger at a maverick hiring manager who was being “politically incorrect”.

The Evolution – What? Why?

In the two decades to follow, we were excited to see how quickly the HR profession evolved.  And in hindsight, we can see how inevitable those changes were.   As the costs and regulations related to employment and employees increased, and the number of employees a company could afford to hire shrank, the value of the expertise needed to find, hire, and manage those fewer select employees increased.   HR represented that needed expertise.

HR Services

As HR embodied increasingly important expertise in an organization, we also found HR professionals organized things for busy hiring managers, who didn’t have the time or expertise to do them on their own, such as; finding and screening candidates for hire, talking to a disgruntled employee, handling the touchy stuff related to a job or pay change.  HR showed they weren’t just the organizational “police” or employee advocates, but could positively contribute to busy hiring managers.   HR teams were increasingly expected to get in front of the organization’s people needs, not just follow behind. They did so effectively.

NEW HR Leaders

We also noticed  that a new breed of HR leaders were being attracted to the HR profession – leaders who had already been successful in  other areas  of front line leadership –  manufacturing, production, occasionally marketing or sales.  We saw these leaders bringing a new and more business like perspective to their HR role.  They brought in new ways to think about HUMAN RESOURCES.

HR and Compliance

But like all evolution’s, the shift from a task to strategy orientation, did not come easy or in a straight line.  Take, for example, the changing landscape of regulatory requirements that was going on at about the same time as HR was growing its role in organizational performance.  Over the last 2 decades both state and federal governments have been busy creating new and more complex rules to govern the employee/employer relationship – new taxes, new regulations, new administrative stuff with a lot of dos and don’ts.

For some companies these rules are so abundant and complex, they hire attorneys to provide guidance almost on a daily basis. Some companies put these attorneys under the HR banner; many other put HR under legal.  Either model often perpetuated HR’s reputation as the people of “cannot dos”, leaving a  long and less than positive trail, still visible today.

HR as Subject Matter Experts   

In counterbalance, the growing range and level of expertise required to do HR work has been growing exponentially, particularly in the last decade.  As the science around human behavior has become increasingly embedded inside modern workforce management philosophy and execution, the knowledge and expertise required to be an HR professional has become both substantial and publicly recognized.   Thanks to SHRM and other organizations, HR credentials are now highly visible to the business community and bring with it a new layer of professional respect.  Clearly, the days of being hired into HR with the requisite of “liking people” and “being a willing and articulate advocate of the employee point of view”, have passed.

Today’s HR professionals are expected to offer up ideas and strategies to optimize business performance.  Most pursue advanced education offering specialized areas of study like talent acquisition (recruiting), diversity, compensation and benefits, employee relations, workforce planning, and organizational development.  Individual HR practitioners still work one on one with individual hiring managers, but they also sponsor company wide programs designed to leverage specialized HR expertise.

Vendor Relationships

As the business environment continues to become more complex and the pressures on businesses to optimize their human investments escalate, the role of the vendors who service the HR community has changed dramatically.  In the early days of our business (mid 70’s), for example, 85% of our business was requested by hiring managers working independently of any kind of “personnel” insert.  Today, 85% of our business is done with, for, and with full visibility of our HR partners.    Our work is always in alignment with specific goals set by our HR partners, in conjunction with the executive team, where they clearly have a seat.

This hasn’t always been the case.  There have been times in our 40 year history whereas HR thought of many in our industry as competitors – vendors who were selling people or services to their hiring managers either “behind their back” or outside the boundaries they had set for vendors.  Third party recruiting/staffing companies found ways to fill in the gaps in HR capacity by selling their services directly to hiring managers, often charging fees well outside  market driven norms.  There was good reason why HR viewed vendors as enemies rather than partners, and why many looked for ways to keep vendors out, rather than invite them in.

Today’s HR/Vendor Relationships

Today, most vendors in the staffing industry find themselves more welcomed and valued by HR than ever before.   The smart ones have developed whole new product lines around their HR partnerships, finding new ways to help them optimize their business performance by delivering a product or service faster/better, or at less cost than the HR team could provide internally.

PACE represents companies of all sizes and staffing configurations, reflecting bits and pieces of HR evolution and our 40 year history.

  • Some PACE clients are not yet large enough to have a dedicated HR function. For those companies, our role is to help these managers get access to the talent they need quickly, efficiently, and in compliance with the law.  We see ourselves as that HR partner to company ownership.
  • For a larger client with an HR team in place, our role is to augment their existing HR resources to achieve the results they need, even when they are understaffed.  For these clients, we work as an extension of their HR team, helping them achieve specific business objectives – faster hires, reduced turnover, and lower costs per hire.  Our Network concept, for example, was built to support organizations that wanted to do it all, but without the high costs associated with developing the internal resources to make that happen.
  • For our largest clients with fully developed HR teams and a seat at the executive table, our job is to become a part of their more comprehensive HR services delivery plan. For these clients, our job is often to provide third party employer services that they cannot provide internally.   The development and management of a non-employee workforce is one very significant example of where our work compliments the work of an HR team in ways they cannot offer internally.

Celebrating HR

We couldn’t be happier that for the majority of our clients, HR plays such an important role inside the organizations they represent.   We see what these teams are contributing to their organizations on a daily basis – the role they play in optimizing individual employee performance, but more importantly in championing overall organizational  performance.

We look forward to a long and productive relationship with our HR partners!


Jeanne Knutzen

This article was written by Jeanne, Knutzen Founder and CEO of The PACE Staffing Network.  PACE has been helping Northwest employers find and hire the employees they need in a variety of market conditions.  Today’s market has its specific challenges, but we know where and how to find the hard to find.  For a personal and complimentary consult on how to hire right to today’s marketplace, contact our partnership development team at 425-637-3312 or



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