Paul Juniper has seen a lot of change in his 25 years in human resources leadership. We asked him why he likes HR, and where he sees the field – and Queen’s IRC – heading in the coming years.
Given your long experience in senior HR positions and as a very active association volunteer, you strike me as someone who is utterly comfortable in the HR practitioner world. What about this field appeals to you?
I’m a broad generalist, and I like the variety. I started out being a specialist in training – that’s how I got into HR. The company where I worked decided they wanted to merge the training function and what they then called ‘the personnel function.’ They were in different divisions, and they gave me the opportunity to put two areas together.
I like the breadth, the growth, and the changes I’ve seen in the past 25 years in HR have been exciting ones. I’ve never had any reason to leave the field. What’s most appealing to me is the strategic connection with the business – being able to help the business develop, or go in the direction it needs to go, by seeing the systemic connection with HR functions.
For example, if a company has low wages, that has certain implications for turnover. There will likely be high turnover, so you will need to train people and have a lot of orientation, meaning you are going to need more people in that area. So you may save on paying low wages, but you are going to have additional costs in other areas.
It is this ‘knee-bone is connected to the thigh-bone’ part that interests me: understanding how that’s connected, and articulating it to employees and to management.
HR folks are kept up at night by outsourcing, by feeling they are on the outside looking in, by fairly rapid changes to the profession. When all the dust settles, where do you see the people management practitioner sitting within the modern organization? What should be his or her mission?
I think it is right HR people are kept up by outsourcing – though many companies which did it in haste have regretted it at their leisure. If they did it to save money, often in the long run, they didn’t necessarily. The real issue for me with outsourcing is that it’s a low-value function and takes up time. So what’s the better value-add for the HR function? Do we want to spend our time doing admin and clerical information? Or do we want to spend our time adding to the value of the business?
Rapid changes are taking place in the profession, as described in studies from University of Michigan and the Society of Human Resources Management in the United States.*
There’s been lot of change in what’s expected of HR people. It used to be that we were asked to manage change; then we were asked to lead change; now we are being asked to design change. It is good for our profession that these things are happening. We used to be asked to do an employee satisfaction survey; now we are being asked if we can design a culture that fits with the direction the organization wants to go strategically. That’s quite a different set of skills and abilities that are needed to do what management is now asking us to do.
In terms of where people management practitioners should sit within the organization, I think there are opportunities for us to expand beyond our historic place. A lot of HR people are getting additional responsibilities as companies downsize and collapse functions and collapse levels. It is not uncommon for HR departments to manage payroll, where it might have been done by the finance department in the past. And I know of one HR VP who wanted to have control of internal communications because he felt it gave him the opportunity to influence the agenda of the corporation and the employees, and ensure HR got its position out.
It makes good sense to have the ability to influence the communications to employees. It is more than just doing an employee newsletter; it is about positioning the human assets of the organization in order to meet the needs of that organization, whether it is corporate, non-profit, or government.
What should be the mission of today’s HR practitioner?
This is subjective, my opinion only, because if you ask 10 different HR people you will get 10 different answers. There will be those who say we have to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Others will say it’s our role to make sure that the law is applied, that we have a judicial role; or that we have a fiduciary role around things like ethics, the board of directors’ role and responsibilities.
Then there will be those like me who would say that our role is to help the organization to fulfil its direction in an effective and efficient way; help the employees be all they can be while we are doing that; and hopefully, have some fun along the way. Ultimately, we spend more time at work than we do with our families. We should be able to respect and enjoy the people we work with, learn things from them.
What do you see as IRC’s role in preparing practitioners for future roles?
What’s unique about the IRC, and what I love about it, is the leading – edge work that’s done, the experiential approach to involving practitioners, the linking in with live research, and the connection between both the IR side and the organizational design and organizational effectiveness side.
That is unique, and no one else does it, especially not the way we do it. It gives HR practitioners the opportunity to try and experiment with new things in a safe environment, helps them form an immediate network of people doing the same thing. And as we go forward – watch for more on this later this year – we will develop an alumni group for people who have graduated from our programs, which will strengthen that networking link.
The IRC is a storied and well-established unit, celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2007. In your wildest dreams, how do you see the IRC looking in five years?
I think we will see additional programming in IR at the senior level. We definitely have a pool of people who have completed our programs who are asking us on a regular basis for more programming, so that will happen.
We want to be offering existing programs in more places, giving greater numbers of professionals the opportunity to experience Queen’s IRC programs. And we’re looking at providing more public offerings. A large part of our business has always been providing custom programs on-demand, so we’ll travel across the country when necessary and where necessary.
What the IRC can be is a catalyst in some of the smaller communities for learning communities to start up. So in smaller communities where there may not be a university providing this kind of learning, we can facilitate bringing programs to them.
So what do I think the IRC will look like in five years? We’ll be on the ground in more places, we’ll be more flexible, faster to respond perhaps, and we will have some interesting new programs already released. I think that our programs in Regina are a great example of what I mean.
Brockbank, Wayne and Dave Ulrich. 2003. Competencies for the new HR. Washington, DC: University of Michigan Business School, Society for Human Resource Management, and Global Consulting Alliance.
Society for Human Resource Management. 2004. The maturing profession of human resources worldwide. Summary report for Canada. Alexandria, VA: Society for Human Resource Management.