The "Wall Street Journal" reports that about one-third of new human resources executives come from outside the field, reflecting "a perception that some traditional HR professionals lack the deep understanding of business and financial issues that CEOs increasingly want." The traditional HR role valued technical knowledge, with a focus on tasks and functional operations. This role has undergone many changes, and HR managers are now expected to be strategic, proactive management partners, in sharp contrast to the traditional expectations of the position.

Overview: Changes to the Traditional HR Role

The traditional HR professional was expected to be a technical expert, with a deep knowledge of compensation and benefits practices. HR traditionally dictated the "rules" and told managers what was and was not permitted, based on policy and procedure. New expectations for HR are for the department to be more participative, providing recommendations based on technical and legal expertise and proactively guiding the company's strategic mission. Whereas the traditional role of HR was to ensure stability and consistency, the new HR professional is required to position the organization for constant growth and change.

Employee Advocate vs. Strategic Management Representative

The traditional HR professional acted as an employee advocate, responding in a passive sense to employee concerns about technical issues such as rules and regulations. HR's traditional interactions with management often involved "policing" managers' interpretations of the rules, dealing with employee complaints when the correct practice did not occur and telling managers how to apply policy and procedure. The traditional role did not involve big-picture, executive-level involvement with the organization's strategic operations. In contrast, the modern HR professional is required to act as a strategic management partner, rather than being pitted between management and employees. Although HR still must maintain technical knowledge, this knowledge should be used to shape organizational development strategies and develop a competitive advantage for the company.

Reactive vs. Proactive

While the traditional HR professional reacted to change, the new HR model must drive change from the outset. The traditional HR approach would respond to each individual request for recruitment of a particular position, placing advertisements according to manager requests and processing applications. The new approach should design and shape the workforce, identifying operational needs and expansion efforts in which talent will be needed, developing comprehensive recruitment and talent management plans and developing the overall classification profile of the company to best respond to strategic initiatives.

"Soft" Skills vs. Measurable Return on Investment

The traditional HR professional generally was not required to demonstrate the impact of the department on the organization's bottom line and typically viewed employees as expenses rather than assets. In recent years, HR has needed to demonstrate return on investment and the ways in which specific HR practices add value to the organization. Traditional HR professionals measured qualitative, subjective responses to questions of employee morale, whereas the modern HR approach requires that morale be measured in quantifiable terms, such as reduced turnover and lessened workers' compensation complaints, for example.