HR Roundtable: What Would Happen If HR Just Quit Being So …. ?

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Jan 21, 2016

There is always new energy when a New Year begins, and 2016 is no different.

It was cool to be able to have the first HR Roundtable in Cincinnati this year be more conceptual than normal. The topic was “What if . . . ??” There were a series of questions that looked to challenge the norms of who HR is, how HR practices, and, what human resources could become.

Here’s what everyone started with:

  1. What if Senior Management looked at HR as …….. ?
  2. What would happen if HR quit being so risk averse?
  3. What would HR be like if employees worked with them on purpose?

The groups jumped on these tickler questions and the discussion was thoughtful and measured. It was a bit calmer than most HR Roundtables. However, the groups came back with some phenomenal answers!

1. What if Senior Management looked at HR as …….. ?

  • Someone with financial acumen — This is a solid answer because the typical answer you hear is that HR should “know the business.” Understanding and being able to converse financially is a deeper expectation. HR has to realize that businesses talk financially. We can’t continue to be unwilling to learn this foreign language. As long as we continue to disregard this essential fact of business, we will always remain on the fringe of organizations.
  • Someone who makes organizational recommendations — HR folks tend to live in their field. They thrive in it, but it may not have an organizational viewpoint. Senior management wants HR folks who can bring the HR knowledge to situations as well as offer tangible recommendations on the direction and function of the entire company. To live narrowly in HR only is limiting — and not very effective.
  • Someone who contributes — HR has to realize the stance of “speak when spoken to” is over. As a business function, HR is expected to contribute intentionally with items that add value. Compliance is one part of HR, but it shouldn’t be the driver. Adding value and also developing others so they also contribute is the current reality in organizations.
  • Someone who makes HR “user friendly” — This was a great response because HR tends to speak its own acronym-laden language. We also through semi-legal veiled threats as shields to activity and forward movement in companies. Senior management wants HR to drop the lingo and catchphrases and simplify what HR does so that people engage with HR instead of looking at them as an obstacle.
  • Someone who connects senior management with the employees — A key role HR could (and should) play is the function that “connects the dots” organizationally. Integrating throughout all departments is essential so that HR can pull together the people and functions that need to work together. Great HR understands human dynamics and they can make both senior management and employees succeed by making effective connections.

2. What would happen if HR would quit being so risk averse?

  • It would destroy the stereotypes of HR — There is a stigma (often earned) around Human Resources. Being wildly conservative may be a positive attribute, but many look at it as HR being a barrier to the work of the company. If HR was more willing to listen and act more freely, one of the stigmas about the profession would dissipate.
  • Say “Yes” more than “No” — This approach alone could completely redefine HR! That is not an overstatement, it’s a fact. This has to change within HR for it to take hold. One suggestion would be for HR folks to look at solutions vs. conclusions. When faced with situations in companies, step back and evaluate all options instead of relying on staunch tradition. Nothing in companies is black and white. Start playing in the gray where things are happening anyway!
  • Approach HR strategically — It’s almost incomprehensible that HR continues to think that being strategic is some aspiration that is just out of our reach. Business people operate strategically and we have to shed the small way we looked at our roles in the past and know that we must be strategic as well. This takes focus and effort, but it is what is needed. HR folks who don’t approach their role strategically will disappear in the next few years if they don’t evolve.
  • HR should OWN what they do — In the constant strive to be nice, HR abdicates the ownership of what it does in companies. Standing up and taking ownership of who HR is and what they do is needed — NOW! No other department or function apologizes for what it does. Having confidence and performing will show others that HR is a competent player and that will transform everything.
  • Give people context — The days of “do it because I said so” are over. They really never worked even though many companies and HR functions continue to practice with this mantra. Giving others context around the how and why things operate in the company, and in their role, is a huge opportunity for HR. Step into the gap and make this happen. You’ll see more relationships form and people will perform at a much higher level.

3. What would HR be like if employees worked with them on purpose?

This wasn’t written in the wrong order. Too often HR goes to employees when there are problems or the world is on fire. This question was meant to look at the steps HR could take to make it so that employees would want to work with them.

  • Be human with others — This isn’t the put the “H” back in HR crud. Employees want HR to listen to them, but, also not be distant. We tend to put on an authoritative face when interacting with people because we assume that keeping our distance will keep us objective and impartial. Stop it! The more you are yourself, the more employees will connect with you on purpose.
  • Partner with employees — If you ask management who HR represents, they’d say “Management.” If you asked employees who HR represents, they’d say … “Management.” So who represents the employee? HR practiced as the group that speaks for both management and employees is what is needed in companies regardless of the industry. Walk along your employees on purpose and show them that this can be a reality so they know they have an ear and a voice.
  • Be accessible — The reality we have to come to terms with is that HR exists only if there are employees. So, if they can’t get to you unless it’s scheduled or formal, don’t expect them to do very well. HR needs to be open and available whenever needed and not when you just make time for people in your schedule. Remember this – your desk doesn’t care that you come to work, but your employees do! Invest your time in others

HR needs the desire to connect

HR can, and should, make the business case to senior management that the best use of their time is to be immersed with others outside of HR. This is true for all levels of staff within a company. It’s not just a desire to connect with the front line.

Intentionally spending time with others at work opens up more lines of communication than you can imagine because they will see you are doing this on purpose. This isn’t done through systems and reviews, it’s done when you put your face in front of theirs just because it’s Monday.

We could have gone on for hours and hours on this topic and we honestly only scratched the surface. The main takeaway from this month’s Roundtable is that this type of reflection and looking forward is needed all year and not only when a new year comes around!