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What the Heck is HR and What Do We Do?

We’ve been asked many times: “what does HR even do?” There’s an assumption that HR manages payroll and hiring, and that’s about it. The work of HR has shifted in the last few decades to become a critical and strategic element of any organization. The HR functions may be carried out by business owners, executive directors, or often by the finance department of a small organization; or it may be carried out by a designated resource, or certified HR professional. Most often, it’s a combination of these. Regardless of who is wearing the HR hat, it is all about minimizing risk, supporting the respect and dignity of everyone involved, and following the law. As Lisa Isaac, Owner of LIHR, has been heard to say: “HR is part lawyer, part therapist.”

Officially, Human Resources (“HR”) management is defined as “the process of managing an organization’s employees…to effectively meet an organization’s goals.” It’s about the relationship that the employer has with its employees. “HR” was first used in the 1960’s when businesses started to see the value in “human capital management” – initially the investment in people, expanding into the consistent, fair application of processes to people—leveraging motivation, engagement, and evaluation methods. The “personnel department” moved out of the role of administration and into the role of strategic advisor, similar to the finance or marketing function. Now, HR has a seat at the leadership table, along with the Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Executive Officer. Ultimately, the HR function is meant to minimize risk, balanced with respect and dignity of everyone involved, all while following the law.

To help simplify all of the elements of HR, the LIHR team breaks it down into 3 layers of a pyramid.

1. The largest area to focus on is compliance. If you aren’t operating legally, you should focus your energy and attention on this foundational element. Compliance to human rights, health and safety, accessibility, and employment laws helps prevent injuries and illness at work, multiple grievances and conflicts, costly leaves of absence, complex human rights and discrimination complaints, and Ministry of Labour orders and fines.

2. Once that is under control, look at the HR operations, or what we often see as “doing HR”. This includes your employee lifecycle – attraction, recruitment, development, performance management, and transitioning out of the workplace. HR operations that are consistent, transparent, fair, and easy for employees to understand empower employees to make decisions based on documented guidelines (like policies and procedures). These clear guidelines make feedback and recognition easier, which in turn, makes a more productive work environment. Engaged employees are more satisfied and take less time off work and are less likely to quit or become disruptive.

3. Finally, if your organization follows legislation and your HR processes are flowing smoothly, then your focus should be on your HR strategy. This is really about aligning your people strategy with your operational strategy. In this element, you can look at how to really leverage your Total Rewards, IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility), and Employee Engagement strategies. Leveraging HR strategically allows you to really advance your organization to be more productive, more effective, to provide better products or service delivery, and to harness that competitive edge.

The HR function started out to meet an administrative need and has developed into a technologically advanced strategic partner. Your HR function—whether in-house or outsourced, a dedicated resource or an employee who wears many hats—is advice. That advice is meant to support organizational success, while minimizing risk, supporting the respect and dignity of everyone involved, and following the law.

If you’re not sure where your organization is at with your HR functions, book time with an HR Advisor or Communications Specialist to chat about how we can help. We offer Health Check Packages for HR and Health & Safety (HRHS) and Communications (CHC) for any sized organization across Canada.

For professional HR advice that you can trust, contact us today!

Lisa Isaac HR Professional Services

From the LIHR team and lead collaborator, Lisa Isaac,CHRL, CHRP, Owner & Sr. HR Consultant

photo courtesy of

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