Respect for Human Resources
Human Resources is often viewed as the court jester in many companies, a fact that I am painfully aware of. I used to think that one of the many reasons the Human Resource department is the butt of so many jokes was a self-fulfilling vicious cycle (and this is a broad generalization):
- Human Resources reports to someone other than the CEO and / or doesn’t have a seat at the table
- Without a seat at the table, Human Resources is viewed as and treated as a support / administrative function vs. a strategic function.
- Working in a department that is viewed as support / admin will educate and expose the members of these department to think and act in a supportive and administrative way.
- Because they haven’t seen “strategery” or learned how to be strategic, Human Resources doesn’t end up figuring out how to earn a seat at the table. (I admit that HR needs to take the initiative here)
- See first bullet point above.
(I realize the above is a VERY broad and racist generalization.) There are many Human Resource practitioners whose departments do not report to the CEO or have a seat at the table and are strategically minded.
I have been tinkering with an additional theory based on a lack of strategic thinking which I believe is compounding the negative reputation of the Human Resources function. I found myself guilty of this closed minded attitude and this mentality was not hurting my credibility because I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. On the flip side, this attitude wasn’t helping me either. I thought sharing it here might help others as well.
I always felt that engineers think and act differently when compared to just about every other group out there. Most engineers admit to being different and times they are a changing, because developers are rightfully taking pride in their Geekdom. Engineers are the new black. I won’t go so far as to say “sexy” but developers are not the nerds they were a few years back. Heck, even playing the cello and the violin is en vogue these days with the advent of technology.
I work for a company whose make up is 66% software engineers and I sit 10 feet away from half a dozen uber smart technologists. Sitting and working along this group has opened my mind to a new perspective.
Yes, we are different. I am probably considered a high maintenance Metro and these guys posses the low maintenance, edgy, urban vibe that only progressive geeks can. I have a truck and a car with a V8, this group wants to walk, bike and eat Gluten free food.
I think what bonds us, is that we are all passionate about what we do. We work our 10-hour days within our respective disciplines towards the same goal and then evenings and weekends are spent working on side projects in these same disciplines. We both think about our craft for 90% of our waking hours.
My budding theory on lack of respect towards Human Resources in the workplace is based on the following observation.
Developers see “something wrong” or (in politically correct language) “a potential fix” with just about everything. HR doesn’t usually notice there is a problem unless race, gender, age or money is involved and then all hell breaks loose.
I used to think this “something is wrong with everything” attitude was counter productive and that many developers viewed the world with this “everything sucks” lens. I thought I held a positive “glass have full” attitude and developers had this “glass half empty” attitude. But at the end of the day, my co-worker engineers want to fix the problem and this is a good thing. Developers don’t just point out problems, they are looking for problems because these problems are opportunities that can be fixed and improved. Developers are looking for challenging problems to solve and are vocally and verbally passionate about solving these problems. There is a big difference between just pointing out a problem vs. getting off on solving a challenging or interesting problem.
Human Resources complacency
I am an Apple fan. MacBook Air, Ipad, and an iPhone are all part of my quiver. I am super impressed that I am not only able to do almost anything I want with any of these platforms, but I can do it in style. Check the river levels before I go fishing? There is an app for that. Check the tides before I go fishing? Yeah, an app. Currents in the salt water? Phase of the moon? GPS for my favorite fishing spot? Check, Check, Check. I think this is revolutionary, simply amazing and yes Nasty. Only a few years ago, I would have had to check 5 different sources in 5 different medias including a paper newspaper. On top of that, this information would have been 24 hours old. A few years back, if I wanted to know if the water was going to be too rough for my boat, I would look at a hanging American flag on my way to the boat launch. Based on how much this flag was waving in the air, I could figure out how hard the wind was blowing which I then translated to sea conditions. Now I can do this in the comfort of a warm bed. Simply put, I am as giddy as screaming teenage girl who just ran into Beiber and snapped a couple of pix.
Props to Developers
But to a developer, this isn’t good enough. In fact, it isn’t even close to good enough. A developer would ask: “Shouldn’t I be able to pay my boat launch fee with an app instead of having to put physical paper money into a machine at 4:00 am? “Yo dude, you got any one dollar bills?” Shouldn’t I be able to text the boat ramp so they know to pull my boat out of storage and have it in the water when I arrive?” More often than not, this comes across as an angry and emotional tirade (I am in Human Resources, so lets call it a passionate rant). Developers do not just wonder why an app can’t perform X, Y, or Z, but demand their technology have additional functionality. In many cases the technology is being put down for its lack of ingenuity. A few years ago, many Apple Fans were ridiculing Steve Jobs because the new iPhone 4 didn’t have good reception. The people demanded a fix and Apple complied with their free case program.
I used to think this mentality was looking at the product with a negative “glass half full” mentality, but have come to realize, this mentality is looking to pour the glass till it “over-flo-ith” and scales to “glasses of water”. I was perfectly happy to hold the phone a specific way to receive reception and stared in awe at my shiny black phone, open mouth with drool on my chin wondering how they managed to get my voice from one place to another without a string attaching our two devices.
It used to be difficult for me to see “opportunities” in perfectly functioning products when I didn’t posses the “spill some water mindset”. I am in Human Resources and I was supposed to believe in humanity, so this didn’t come naturally.
I once interviewed a VP level developer that candidly stated in an interview “I can make a computer do anything”. Although the statement wasn’t made with any malice or cockiness, I heard arrogance. Later, as I went through my notes, I realized it wasn’t an arrogant statement but a fact. This candidate had no limitations. After all, if we could put a man on the moon in the 60’s, we can probably make a computer do anything. This was a different perspective on life and something this Human Resources pro-am could learn from.
When I left Corporate America and joined my first technology start up. The founders came to me and said “Your goal is to make this company the best place to work”. I quickly replied “No problem” thinking the company was already a good place to work and great was but a hop and a skip away. He then added “And get this published”. WTF? Published??? I looked around our basement office with mismatched furniture and used desks where offices designed for a single employee had groups of 4 and 5 crammed like sardines. In my small HR mind, my jaw dropped, sirens were blaring and lights were flashing. “Scuse’ me, I think I mis-heard you. Did you say published?” Thankfully I knew to keep my mouth shut. But you know what? We did make the published list that first year. In fact, we were published for the next 7 years and hit spot number 1 and number 2 for two of those years. Human Resources wouldn’t have accomplished that on it’s own because I didn’t look at the “problem” with the same lens of opportunity as my technologist founders. Frankly, I didn’t see a problem; I was perfectly content. It took a technologists perspective to see a problem that wasn’t there, and then come up with a fix so that the “glass over flo-ith”.
I now work in a start up that is trying to create not only a new product, but a new industry and this is no easy task. Despite the challenges, Fortune brands are calling us up for this new product and as I look around at the visionaries that created this “opportunity” I feel pretty fortunate. When we are looking to extend an offer to a potential hire, we are looking for candidates that are not only looking to tackle the impossible but to see the possibility no one else does. It takes a mentality that believes “We can make a computer do anything”. Accepting the status quo will not move a company forward.
This has forced me to admit that for a long time I had unintentionally settled for mediocrity. My Human Resources discipline may have trained me to tackle the impossible but what it lacked was the mentality to see how “the perfect” could be improved? This is key to being strategic. Pushing the limits, thinking outside the box and never accepting the status quo. Improve the perfect and then iterate. It should come as no surprise to me how often I hear amongst my co- workers “On a scale of 1-10, I am going to give it a 9 because nothing is perfect”. That used to piss me off because I would regularly give an 11, but now. . . I am a believer.
In working with developers, I have realized that my HR mentality of “glass half full” is still half empty. Next time you see something that is perfectly acceptable, take a developers view and try to figure out how to “make the glass spilleth over”.
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.