I was recently asked to sit down with a small group of HR professionals and the intent was to talk about our professional brand as an HR professional. The session was a lot of fun and turned out to me more of a round table Q&A than me just presenting. The group was very insightful. I thought that regardless of what you do for a living the discussion was applicable to all professions. The talk was a good reminder for myself as to what I stand for personally. My hope is that the below comes across in the way I hope it did in person. The below helped me move my career to be an executive in HR and then a COO with responsibility beyond HR.
What is the most important thing HR can do?
Make sure that employees are paid on time and accurately. When in doubt, clear up questions ASAP. Employees don’t come to work because they like the product or the people. Product and people are the icing on the cake. They come to work for the cake and the cake is the paycheck. Do everything you can to make sure that people get paid and their expenses are taken care of in a timely manner. Miss this a couple of times and employees will always be suspect of you.
I believe that individually, we alone are ultimately responsible for our own careers. Despite the manager, despite the VP, despite my nosy, bitchy, or dick headed co-worker that I am sitting next to, it is up to me to take responsibility and actions for my own career. I should NOT rely on my manager to read my mind or just hand me an opportunity. We need to show we are ready for more responsibility by doing more than just our job and we need to let our manager know what we want to do. we need to make it easy for my manager to give me more responsibility and by easy, I mean, they need to be able to defend WHY we are worth more money, more responsibility, more of anything to their boss.
What is an HR no-no?
Responding with “No”, “It can’t be done” or “It is impossible”. Nothing is impossible. If we could put a man on the moon in the 60’s with 64 kilobytes of memory, then in today’s age where we can buy terra bytes of storage off the shelf for PERSONAL use, we can do anything. It may take more time and more resources, but we can do anything. Start any answer with what it takes to get something done and work backward from there. This is a very different mentality than starting the conversation with “That can’t be done”.
I am NOT here to look out for individual employees. My primary – job one, is to protect the company and make a return on investment for our investors. By protecting the company I am looking out for the individual employees. When I help create a fair and welcoming environment, I make it easier for our co-workers to do amazing work. By looking out for the company I AM looking out for the employee.
As an HR practitioner, all I have is trust. As soon as I lose the employees trust, my value as an HR professional is worth nothing. Protect the trust.
If an employee wants to tell me something in confidence, then I need to let them know up front that if an employee or the company is at risk, I will need to get help. I am here for the company first.
There are no rules, just guidelines. I worked in Corporate American and we had an employee manual. Rules, rules, rules. I now work in technology and I believe in a book of employee guidelines. We are dealing with people and all people and situations are different. A single rule is not going to cover our diverse workforces. We are all adults so providing the “intent” of the guideline is much more mature than providing a hard rule.
HR sitting at the table
If we want a seat at the table, we need to act like we deserve a seat at the table. This means presenting our ideas in a business fashion that the executive team can relate to. This is going to sound harsh but most exec teams are alpha males and most HR practitioners are folks who got into HR because they wanted to take care of individual employees. Communications styles need to adapt to the audience. Execs don’t think about individual employees, they think about the entire workforce. I could not stress the upside of a mentor here.
No asshole rule
For me personally, it doesn’t matter how smart they are, no assholes. I would rather have a hole on the team vs. an asshole. That being said, and I say this all the time.
If I had an ENTIRE team of assholes, I can probably put that company in the best place to work list. Everyone is on the same page, everyone understands and appreciates the asshole culture. It is when we have random employees that don’t abide by the culture of the company that things go badly. If we want an asshole culture, then I would go out and hire nothing but assholes and explain up front that we have an asshole culture. All the assholes are on the same page, and no one is surprised when they encounter asshole behavior.
It isn’t a place I want to work, but I believe it can work.
Culture is not ping-pong tables and beer Fridays. Too many CEO’s think that adding a ping-pong table and a kegerator is a culture dial. Culture cannot be turned up or down with “more or less stuff”. Regardless of the values, corporate cultures happen when the entire workforce is engaged with the leader’s vision and values. You can have a corporate culture that works for some individuals and doesn’t work for others. As individuals, we need to find a company we can believe in not just from a product standpoint, but a corporate culture point of view as well. See asshole rule above.
I want to explain business decisions 5 different times and 5 different ways. Not every employee can relate to the same message. The executive team should not expect the employee to understand a decision that is explained in 2 minutes at a company meeting or in an email. Execs are the ones that created a new policy and were involved in the discussions. They had time to adjust to the new ideas. My goal is to have employees understand why a business decision is made. They may not like the decision at a personal level, but I want to explain the decision so they respect it from a business perspective (vs. a personal perspective). Once they can respect a decision, they can get behind it and we can move forward. Too many HR people don’t take the time to explain the WHY.
Successful HR practitioners understand that they are not going to be able to please all employees all the time. Successful HR practitioners understand that there will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t agree with a business decision. We will not make business decisions in anticipation of a single employees reaction. We need to make decisions for the good of the company goals and the employee force. Too many times, decisions are made with the intent that the small group of offenders will hear the message. Trust me they won’t. Small groups or individual offenders should be addressed by individual managers.
Being successful in HR means being able to hold the respect of the team while executing on hard and painful business decisions. Any monkey can hold respect on the easy and obvious decisions. Being upfront and transparent will move your credibility a long way.
Do everything you can to hook up with a mentor. Buy that person coffee on a regular basis and pick their brain, let them know what you are up to and ask for their advice on projects and presentations. Managers have 4-8 others people on their team and they don’t have time to be your mentor. Network and find a mentor!
As a stereotype, HR people look out for others and not themselves. They can make a case to give someone a raise, but won’t ask for anything on behalf of themselves. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Ask!
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 who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.