human-resourcesLike too few of my colleagues in Human Resources, I actually fell into an HR “Business Partner” role after years in other positions. Ten years of sales, overlapped with management, Operations, and Training, then Recruiting, then somehow I found myself in the HR suite in my early 30’s.

What I found, to my benefit, was that my past job experience offered me an advantage in credibility, perspective, and ability to relate to the leaders with whom I was assigned to support. It really shouldn’t be too hard to realize why, but the fact was somehow lost on my peers, most of whom had been in an HR function for their entire professional careers.

Sales and Marketing, above all, is a difficult department to infiltrate. I was given Global Sales as my first business unit to support, almost by default. Salespeople, and especially sales managers, are reluctant to seek counsel from someone who has never carried the bag. It’s a brotherhood (and sisterhood) based on the experience of being subjected to quotas, rejection, and achievements (or lack thereof) that are visible to the entire corporate world. Rankings, standings, “President’s Club” winners, performance improvement plans (PIP’s), plaques ~ there’s no hiding in Sales, you either make your number, or you leave the game.

So, throw that dynamic into a Sales/Human Resources working relationship. HR, traditionally an administrative, policy-driven, noncommittal, and highly secretive business model. In some circles, this constitutes a “Narc” ~ kind of like putting a mongoose and a Cobra in the same cage, the results are usually not pretty. Before me lay the vacated shells of HR managers – bullied, beaten, and then discarded.

My secret weapon? Easy – dumb luck. Having fought in the trenches myself, I could speak the language, share  war stories, and have a general understanding of the challenges faced by salespeople and their managers. Any advantage you have in the ways of communicating with your client are critical.

The moral of the story? If you do have a desire to work in Human Resources, you’re much better served by working in a functional role outside of HR before making the leap. Policies and procedures can be read by anyone, what you need to do is live it first.


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….go ahead, don’t be a weenie.