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Modern HR department

Traditional vs. Contemporary HR

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In business, they say, “the only constant is change” and as the business world has evolved and changed around us in various ways, the exciting world of human resources has as well. As businesses have grown, pivoted, and adapted to market conditions, they needed an HR department to adjust with it to meet its all-encompassing personnel needs.

The human resources department we know and love today has come from very humble beginnings. Once upon a time, HR was an administrative area of the business. Now, it has a seat at the table and leads the charge on many topics.

It may be hard to think back to a time when traditional HR wasn’t the powerhouse that it is today. Let’s take a step back in time and break down the origins of traditional HR and how it has evolved to the contemporary HR we know today as human resources management.

Personnel Management

HR was known within the business world as the personnel department. The primary motivation was to foster compliant employment practices through good recordkeeping. This approach presumes if personnel activities are well managed, companies will attain organizational success.

This traditional HR approach emphasized following rules and policies and included tasks such as:

  • Job Evaluation
  • Workforce Planning
  • Compensation
  • Employee Relations
  • Compliance-Based Training

Human Resource Management

This is the more contemporary HR approach that merges the traditional method of personnel management with corporate strategy, while also focusing on organizational development. Here, personnel strategies are developed and executed while ensuring that the values, system and culture successfully meet set goals. It goes beyond the administrative function and is set on development, acquisition and realizing potential within the company.

Critics have argued that human resource management is just a newer and more sophisticated name with the aim of rebranding. However, while the two HR models may seem like the same thing on the surface, the functions and activities are actually approached differently.

So what are the main contrasts between traditional and contemporary HR management?

Main Focus

Traditional personnel management is focused on hiring, orientation, compensation and communicating expectations to employees. Its priority is more on administrative functions related to employees’ coordination, welfare and convenience.

Human resource management, on the contrary, is more focused on management and its responsibilities. This structure focuses more on strategic and high-impact functions like acquisition, training, development, maintenance and optimal resource allocation.


Personnel management is more about routine and practices.

Human resources management is more strategic in its approach from setting objectives and analyzing the competitive environment, as well as the internal organization and evaluating these strategies for the future. HR staff working within this model understand that this plays a crucial role in driving the organization in the right direction to gain a competitive advantage.

Employee Management

Human resources management does not just create policies for the good of the organization while neglecting the needs and goals of employees. Procedures and systems are developed to match both the needs of employees and the organization’s goals. Human resources management works with the interest of the organization and the interest of employees in a balanced and synchronized way.

This is not the case with personnel management or traditional HR, as the employees are managed in ways that only match the organization’s goals. The organization’s needs are paramount here. Policies and procedures are formulated with the organization’s interest in mind and coming first.


The human resource management approach is more proactive than personnel management as it looks at the bigger picture and is more futuristic. Personnel management, on the other hand, deals with the current daily operations and administrative systems.

While personnel management tends to have the outlook of more control, structure and discipline, human resource management is empowerment, growth and development-oriented.

Team Structure

When it comes to staff, human resource management views people as assets that are valuable in driving organizational success, whereas personnel management does not have a deep view of people or employees. They see employees as just what’s required and part of the process to create the organization’s ideal situation and favorable output.

Teamwork is a significant part of human resource management which is the basis on which jobs are outlined. With personnel management, it’s about dividing labor among people.

We can definitely see the ‘glow up’ that the HR Department has undergone over the past decade, and it’s exciting to see this evolution. Businesses can merge traditional and contemporary HR management to benefit from the structure and predictability that comes with personnel management and the avenue for creativity and initiative that is part of modern HR management. It’s about the balance of both.