Here’s What’s Broken in HR — and How You Can Help to Fix It

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Jan 7, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

You may have heard the phrase “talent is the lifeblood of a company” before — and if it’s true, then that makes HR the central artery.

As companies mature and change, the people who fill their ranks are naturally leading the charge. But in a field traditionally defined by leaders who are technology-averse and rigid rule makers (and enforcers), change can happen slowly.

With today’s rate of innovation and technological advancement, however, the HR field doesn’t have the luxury of taking its time. Businesses are moving at quick clips to stay ahead of the curve for their very survival, and it’s high time that HR gets on board, too.

As this wave of evolution builds for the human resources industry, here are the changes that I’ve seen in the works — and how we can (and really must) embrace them going forward.

1. Break rules and cause trouble

There’s no doubt that HR has come a long way since it kicked off in the early 20th century, but the problem nowadays is that people are too focused putting a fresh coat of paint on outdated ideas instead of making the radical departures that progress demands.

Take employee sensitivity training, for example. Over the years, HR has become increasingly committed to making strides in terms of inclusiveness, at least on the surface. In practice, this often involves little more than adding a couple of new questions to the diversity training test every couple of years.

If you truly want to usher in a new era of workplace acceptance, though, you can’t just update your processes — you have to totally rethink them. But too often, that isn’t what happens.

As HR executives, we can’t be afraid to think outside the box, get disruptive or push back (truth be told, if you’re doing your job right, you should be getting on others’ nerves at least a little bit).

The point here isn’t to agitate, but to break free from the mold. So if you’ve had all the same processes and rules in place for a while, don’t just continue them for the sake of tradition — ask why they exist in the first place. And if you can’t justify something, it’s time to change it up.

You can’t make an impact at your company if you’re not making your part the best that it can possibly be.

2. Put the business first

There’s a persistent stereotype of HR folks being overprotective mother hens who exist only to coddle and fuss over employees. While this might be taking it a bit far, I have encountered first-hand throughout my career HR leaders who invest all of their energy into placating employees without thinking about the bigger picture.

Think of bending over backwards to accommodate an underperforming employee who makes excuses time and time again instead of focusing on improvement. While employee experience should no doubt be a big area of focus, it’s only one part of the equation for success.

In the most successful companies, everyone is aligned with the end goal of driving business performance. So instead of just keeping tabs on employees day in and day out, sit in on the executive board meetings. Take the time to truly learn about your company’s products, customers, and overall strategy.

Discuss with your CEO how your roles and responsibilities fit in. Perhaps you need to focus on bringing in new talent quickly to keep up with demand, or boost employee engagement and performance.

Whatever stage your business is at, HR can play a critical role in moving the needle, so make sure that the actions you’re taking in your department map back to your company’s overall strategy. And when setting goals, be sure to include concrete metrics — it’s by far the clearest way to measure performance.

3. Maintain a balance between head and heart

When people hear phrases like “metrics” and “data” in the context of HR, they sometimes get scared. Often, a picture of cold, number-crunching robots who will give you the boot if you don’t stack up comes to mind.

But being data-informed and being compassionate aren’t mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite, in fact;  the very best HR leaders are the ones who find balance between logic and emotion.

So while keeping your department’s performance on track, make sure to remain caring and understanding.

When someone isn’t quite living up to their potential, ask what’s going wrong and come up with a plan together that can help him or her improve. Or conversely, if you have to let a chronically underperforming employee go, show sympathy and let them know that while they may no longer be with your company, you’re confident that they can find success in the future.

Employees need an advocate who has their best interests in mind, fights for fairness, and makes sure the office is a safe, engaging, and enjoyable place to be.

Find the balance between empathy and staying business-savvy, and you’ll be well-equipped to keep up with the evolution of HR no matter what turns it might take.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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