What do HR and IT have in common?

HR and IT stand out from the others

When you read that, did you say: “Nothing”? That was my first response too. And then I thought more about it. As promised last week, this is my answer to that question.

Disclaimer: Two of these points are the result of my personal experience. They are not supported by empirical research or anyone else’s opinion. Feel free to disagree.

Why you may have answered: “Nothing”

Most people in HR have very little exposure to IT. That exposure is usually limited to problems with a system. Or trying to understand a training request that doesn’t make sense. React training? Is that a James Bond thing?

And most people in IT have very little exposure to HR. Unless you work on HR systems, HR is often a dirty word for performance appraisals, and boring application forms.

My little bit of background

I have had some exposure to both HR and IT. Incus Data is a tech training company, so I like to think that I have some knowledge about IT. I’ve done some development, and I’ve trained programmers.

I’ve also had a fair amount of exposure to HR. Years ago, Renier (our MD) persuaded a client to use me as an HR team lead on a SAP implementation. That broke one of my rules of good project management: a project manager must understand what he or she is managing. Not be an expert, but understand enough to be able to support the project team.

At that stage, I knew that HR stood for Human Resources. Period. I had a vague idea that HR was responsible for payroll. Before I joined Incus Data, I was a state advocate. I spent my days in court or preparing cases, and I’d never met or spoken to anyone who worked in HR.

So I did what I do when I am asked to manage something I know nothing about. I talked to people. I spent a lot of time trying to understand what HR is and who HR people are.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in more HR projects. My involvement has included HR business process re-engineering and documentation. I’ve discovered the more unexpected facets of HR, like wellness.

#1. HR and IT are usually “THEM”

Psychology studies show that all humans have an in-group bias. We divide people into “us and “them”. “Us” is whatever group we identify with. That can be anything: from profession, gender, race, religion, age, geography or sport, to pet preference or whether we buy Marmite or Bovril. “Them” is the other group, the group that we don’t identify with.

In 20+ years of consulting to large companies in South Africa, I’ve noticed how often HR and IT are the “THEM”. It seems to me that HR and IT are cast as the villains more often than any other department or function.

#2. HR and IT skills are undervalued

One of the stranger things I’ve seen is the appointment of people to senior HR or IT management positions who have no HR or IT experience. I’ve seen an engineer appointed as an HR manager. I’ve seen an auditor appointed as an IT manager. But I’ve never seen a programmer appointed as an accountant. Or a payroll specialist appointed as a production manager.

I do not believe that a piece of paper makes you an expert (and I have 3 tertiary qualifications). I know financial and engineering qualifications existed before IT and HR qualifications. But that doesn’t mean a super-user is somehow skilled to understand the code behind the system. Or that an HR position doesn’t need specialist knowledge.

#3. HR and IT have a common goal

The goal of both HR and IT is to keep the user happy. Please read that again.

That’s the point of the “H” in “HR”. And it’s the reason people expect HR staff to be kind and helpful and friendly.

As for IT – if you don’t agree with this, you’ve missed the point. The term “user-friendly” evolved in the software industry. (It is often attributed to Larry Tesler in 1974 when he worked at Xerox). It doesn’t matter how good a system is if it doesn’t help the user. Bells and whistles are just noise if the user can’t navigate the system or understand the error messages.

#4. HR and IT deal with YOUR sensitive data

This is BIG. Even if you disagreed with everything I’ve written so far, you must agree with this.

HR is the keeper of your personal data. That includes where you live, what you earn, how often you’ve been sick, any formal complaints you’ve made, and what your peers think of you. In other words, a lot of information that you don’t want made public.

IT is also the keeper of your personal data. Software developers have access to lots and lots of sensitive data. A data breach is not only the hacker’s fault. It’s also the responsibility of the developers who didn’t guard against it. (I’ve got so much I want to write about this…)

Play nice

I hope that gave you food for thought. Maybe you’ll be a bit more patient when explaining that tech acronym to your HR colleague. Or a little more understanding of the frustrations of your IT colleague.

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