The Real Meaning Behind HR

As I was thinking about what to write as this month’s column, I received an email from my brother, a retired U.S. Army colonel.

It made me consider the parallel between saving someone’s life in combat and enriching someone’s life through human capital management. It’s a big difference, but stay with me.

You’re a 19-year-old kid. You are critically wounded and dying in the jungle somewhere in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It’s Nov. 11, 1967. 

Your unit is outnumbered 8-to-1, and theenemy fire is so intense from just 100 yards away that your commanding officer has ordered the MedEvac helicopters to stop coming in. You’re lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns, and you know you’re not getting out. Your family is 12,000 miles away, and you’ll never see them again. As the world starts to fade, you know this is the day.

Then — over the machine gun noise — faintly you hear the sound of a helicopter. You look up to see a Huey coming in. But it doesn’t seem real, because no MedEvac markings are on it. Capt. Ed Freeman is coming in for you.

He’s not MedEvac, so it’s not his job, but he heard the radio call and decided he’s flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire anyway. Even after the MedEvacs were ordered not to come, he’s coming anyway.

He drops in and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load three of you at a time on board. Then he flies you up and out through the gunfire to the doctors and nurses and safety.

And he kept coming back; 13 more times until all the wounded were out. No one knew until the mission was over that the captain had been hit four times in the legs and left arm. He took 29 of you and your buddies out that day. Many would not have made it without him and his Huey.  

Medal of Honor Recipient, Capt. Ed Freeman, United States Air Force, died last Wednesday at the age of 70, in Boise, Idaho.

Every day you positively affect the lives of a few, many or perhaps thousands of people by what you do. When you see to it that a qualified person is placed in a job they can do well, you enable them. It’s more than hiring.

When you negotiate benefit programs, you ensure that they can find the health services they’ll need. When you work with people to help them grow through development, you add to their skills.

Working in human resources is a noble profession. Too often, HR people see their work only at a surface level. We get so caught up in the process, the struggle or the daily problems that we forget we’re in this game to help people. We are giving them the tools to protect their loved ones, to stimulate their imaginations.

The other, often ignored, side is that we have an obligation to support the organization’s mission. Even the most altruistic among us must acknowledge that companies need to find, service and retain customers. If they don’t, the business will fail and the employees will lose their source of livelihood. So as we service our fellow employees, we must also keep the organization’s needs in mind.

If you think I’m being too melodramatic, pause for a minute. 

Can you remember when you felt that you had a really good day? Wasn’t it about how you had done something truly beneficial for someone in your organization? Your contribution affects others in many ways. Even something like gathering data can be a valuable exercise.

If you collect and organize information about either a deficiency or an opportunity and put it into the hands of management, it’s about helping them be more enlightened regarding their purpose. Everyone who has management responsibility has an obligation to make organizations the best possible place to work. 

I’m certain that Capt. Freeman wasn’t thinking about a promotion or a medal when he risked his life to bring nearly 30 men to safety. Your job is to make life better for the people that your company employs. That’s really why we have HR. 

 At the end of this month on Memorial Day, America will honor the brave men and women who give their lives in service to their country. God bless them — and may God bless you, too.