Demystifying HR: What Does An HR Really Do?

It has been a year almost since I converted XLRI and was clueless about HR just like everyone else. In my humble attempt to spread whatever knowledge I was getting, I wrote my first article on InsideIIM.

It has been 3 trimesters since that article came out. 25 Subjects, 66 credits and half a summer internship later I think I can now tell people “what  to expect” when they set foot in this course.


HR started off decades ago as a paper pushing role. The role of HR was truly to act as a barrier between the unions in plants and the management. The typical HR filled your forms and organized engagement activities in the form of picnics and cake-cuttings.

However, the focus has undergone a major shift since then. Your typical HR that used to be a transactional role has now become a transformational role in organizations. ‘Human Resource Strategy’ is the newest thing in the corporates. This has happened because we have gone from a production environment to a corporate environment. Jobs are becoming ‘people-focused’ as we speak. CHROs are now banking on the business strategy to create their people strategy. Employee costs are seen as an investment now as compared to earlier when it was thought to be a sunk-cost.


What are the various verticals in HR? HR itself is a specialised course. However, there are divisions within that as well. Broadly, HR can be divided into the following roles:

  • Talent Acquisition: Responsible for scouting, sourcing and poaching talent necessary for specialised roles. Usually takes care of lateral hires.
  • Recruitment and Staffing: Takes care of recruitment strategy. Forecasts, costs, requirements etc are taken into account before coming up with the final recruitment process. Usually deal with entry level roles and mass hiring.
  • Training & Development: Once a employee is hired, a lot of organizations have them undergo training that are relevant for their role. Besides that, every appraisal cycle identifies improvement areas that an employee needs to focus on and a lot of time, these are brought in by imparting training to employees. Setting up the training processes and programs is the work of the L&D team.
  • Compensation and Benefits: Salary, CTC, benefits, in-hand, incentive, bonus, commission, allowances, HRA – all these and many more are not numbers conjured out of thin air. Deciding these numbers is the work of the C&B team in every organization. They decide what the worth of a job is in a given company. This is one of the most coveted roles in HR. Pay too little and your employees leave, pay too much and your costs rise.
  • Talent & Performance Management: How do employees get ratings? How are increments decided? Performance Management Systems (PMS) are what enables a company to evaluate its employees by the method relevant to their systems and structures. But once the evaluation is done, how do I make sure my high-potential employees are groomed for leadership roles? That is what talent management deals with.
  • Organization Design and Role Mapping: This branch of HR deals with how org structures should be and how are roles and hierarchies designed.
  • HR Business Partners/Line HRs: These are the HRs embedded within functions/teams. They take care of the implementation part. They make sure that the PMS, the TMS, employee engagement, feedback, training etc everything is done properly for the team they are embedded with.
  • HR Consulting: HR consultants are the ones who help companies do the above 8 things when the company has no clue how to do it. Basically, they solve your HR problems and provide you with long-term solutions.
  • HR Analytics: Data is the future. In the constant effort to better HR, we are trying to make HR more objective and do away with the subjectivity that still exists in organizations. Analytics helps you plan your road map, better your processes and increase the accuracy of your requirements in terms of human resources.
  • Industrial Relations/Plant HR: IR is the father of HR. The focus of IR is on labour laws, unions, collective bargaining etc. These are primarily plant-based roles and the requirement of this role has gone down over time.

These are just broad topics. Apart from this HR people deal with corporate policy making, planning, mergers and acquisitions, culture management, change management and legal compliance. You can also find out more about what an HR manager really does (and doesn’t) in this video on debunking HR myths with students of XLRI.

Hope this helps the fresh admits who are undecided about joining HR courses across various colleges.

Sailesh Hota

SabHotaHai. Dog person. Hate CATs. 710 in GMAT. 97.46 in XAT 2018. Stand-up comedian, IT professional, NITTian and lazius maximus. Worked for 28 months in semiconductors before calling it quits. Feel free to reach out to me on any platform.



Anannyo bhattacharya

Hi Sailesh, I must tell you this is the finest article on HR that I have read over a long period of time. I really hope you keep on writing such insightful articles on the subject. I am part of the Campus Hiring Team for an IT giant at this point, I am yet to start off with my MBA(HR)/PGDHRM/MA(HRM). On a very personal note, I am very fond of IR, but as a graduate it was really tough to get into the HR function in a proper organization, hence I have started off with Campus Hiring, which is a great learning curve but for sure I would want to experience the other aspects and then tak a stand ahead. I would request you to write an article on the skill sets that one should ideally have to fit into each of the sub-function of HR as mentioned in the above article (as per your understanding/analysis).

P.S- I am from Jamshedpur, but currently I am posted in Chennai.