How many HR Managers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Just one, but they are probably wearing 97 different hats

I have been a generalist HR practitioner and site manager for most of my career.   I have done almost everything you can do in a generalist role at one point or another.    Today, I am a specialist, and a consultant.   I don’t manage anyone directly.   I don’t even deal directly with clients that much anymore.  Some days I feel like a stranger in a strange HR land.

For some odd reason, when I start feeling like this, I start looking at HR job postings.  I always have.   Before the Internet, I used to read the Help Wanted ads in the Sunday newspaper every week.  I wanted to see who and what local companies were hiring for, what my local competitors were doing, how they wrote their ads, and most importantly back then, if they were publishing any specifics on starting rates and benefit packages.

Today when I want to gather that kind of information, I just use web research tools.  When I want to read job ads, I check JobShouts or LinkUp or TweetMyJobs.   I felt like doing that this morning, and I ran across this job posting:

HR MANAGER (PLANT) non-union

Our client is a very prominent durable goods manufacturer actively pursuing a Plant Human Resource Manager due to a recent internal promotion. This is a 400 person non-union plant that has experienced seven consecutive years of year over year growth. This company has a very outgoing and energetic company culture and is seeking a Manager who has great interpersonal skills. The Corporate Director of HR is looking to fill this position as soon as possible!

The HR Manager will have 5 direct reports and responsibilities will center around typical generalist duties (benefits, safety, environmental, recruiting, etc).


-Bachelors degree is required for consideration
-MBA, Masters degree, or SPHR certification is considered a plus
-Candidate must have a strong generalist background
-Non-union experience is an absolute must!  (union avoidance experience a plus)
-Greenfield Startup experience is a plus


If you want to see the posting, see it here.

That is a lot of hats, even with a staff of 5, and they didn’t mention a lot of the other hats this type of job typically wears.  You know the others – compensation, training, communications, local charity liaison, party planner, confidante, OD, security, and the rest, whatever they might be.

How many hats can the average HR generalist wear competently?

It seems like I just took it for granted and did all these things as best I could back in the day.   I would start my day with a meeting with the contract security guard who did watch on the 3rd shift, collect his reports and keys, then show up at my office in time to be there to hand out safety equipment to the first shift, and collect some notes and field some insurance questions from the 3rd shift.   Then I would walk the floor to touch base with the various department supervisors, union shop stewards, and others who might want a piece of my time first thing in the morning.   Then I would run back to my office, check emails and draft a series of bullet points in Word covering HR topics for review and distribution at the 10 AM “All Managers” meeting with the plant manager.   I would say hello to my staff, discuss their problems, give some assignments, and move on the next thing, if no one called from Corporate, or no shop steward was knocking at my door with a disgruntled employee, union contract and grievance form in hand.   I was truly a Jack of all trades, and a Master of few.

Of course, some of these duties, like environmental or safety at a local plant site really aren’t the type of role that require a deep technical expertise in order to complete paperwork, and deliver some canned training programs, but they do cast you as the local expert, and the “go to person” for related issues, whether you are or not.

This has often made me wonder, is this one of the reasons it seems so difficult for HR to get “respect”?  Do we wear so many varied and diverse hats that we are essentially “OK” at doing a lot of things, but not really expert at any of them?   As practitioners, are we too wide, and not deep enough?

I don’t have an answer here, just the question.    When I worked like this, it seemed natural, and I felt like I was pretty effective.  When I look at it from my role today, it seems to be a role that is is fractured and absurd at best, and somewhat schizophrenic at worst.   I know there are a lot of generalists who will tell me that this is a good way of doing things, and that they enjoy the challenges.  I recognize the economic reality that most plant sites cannot afford to staff with an army of specialists.   And being big, and having lots of specialists isn’t really a magnificent alternative either.

No one is running  any “buy one , get one free” specials down at the “Expert” store, are they?

Our field just seems very difficult to structure.

How does your company do it?  How should we change it?

I’d love to hear some dialogue on this one, people!

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