It’s Time to Hire a Different Kind of HR Leader

Last month, I spoke with a former human resources director who had recently quit her high-paying job at a large company where she felt required to treat people with suspicion, devoid of dignity. She simply couldn’t take it anymore.

Facing such a crisis of values is a common experience for many progressive HR leaders. Companies end up driving these individuals away instead of empowering them to make a significant impact, both culturally and financially.

HR’s Frankenstein

Traditional HR training has created a monster.

Because HR doesn’t typically have a seat at the executive table, its true purpose — employee support — is frequently overshadowed by other responsibilities, such as recruiting, handling compensation, and onboarding.

While many people enter the HR field wanting to become employee advocates, traditional training mostly equips them to plan appreciation picnics and control employee behavior in an effort to mitigate risk to the company, rather than a function that can reduce costs. Ochsner Health System, for example, instated a rule that forces employees smile and make eye contact if they are within 10 feet of someone.

Absurd rules like this exist because company leaders are terrified of being sued. Although actual lawsuits are rare, HR leaders are turning to lawyers, who encourage them to enforce irrational policies and procedures to avoid headline-making jury verdicts that grant costly awards. Adding to the perception that HR should be responsible for preventing employment-related charges, HR members are often given inappropriate authority to hire, fire, and deal with employee relations issues.

Too often, leaders view HR as an unavoidable overhead cost needed mainly to protect the company. However, HR done right can foster a culture where people thrive, saving companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs related to absenteeism, turnover, process streamlining, and employee engagement.

This can only be accomplished when an HR department models behavior that champions such a culture and equips other leaders to do the same. To thrive, employees at every level need to be treated as unique individuals and be given opportunities to contribute their wide variety of knowledge and experience.

Here are three ways to abolish outdated, traditional HR management and revolutionize your company from within.

1. Create a new job profile

Traditional HR job descriptions are comprised of legalistic language describing a list of tasks like handling compliance, staffing, and benefits.

Instead, look for someone who adds value by creating an environment of high performance. An HR leader should be extremely knowledgeable about organizational effectiveness trends, maximizing the contributions of employees, and facilitating innovative solutions that add value to the organization’s human capital.

High-performance job profiles focus on the big picture: defining the reason the job exists, describing what is critical about the job, and explaining how the role contributes to the business, customer, and organization. The language used is idealistic and doesn’t shy away from superlatives.

2. Utilize hiring simulations

Good simulations work like magic, quickly revealing how well candidates work in teams and whether they direct, listen, or facilitate when presented with a conflict.

When doing simulations for HR people, first present a typical employee relations scenario and see how candidates react. Do they look for the policy handbook and correlate the situation with the punishment? Or do they ask questions, adopt a curious mindset, and explore the root cause to fully understand the matter?

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Next, provide candidates with a traditional policy that is legalistic, uses language that adopts negative assumptions about employees, and includes the punishment for the infraction. Ask candidates to rewrite it in a way that includes positive assumptions about employees and treats them like the responsible adults they are.

3. Interview for personal attributes

Look for people who operate off of positive assumptions, are really good at listening, can provide examples of practicing win/win outcomes, and are strategic, conceptual thinkers.

High-performing HR personnel should act as the company’s conscience, challenging leaders when they want to make the expedient decision. They should also be the kind of people in whom others naturally confide. Above all, don’t just focus on whether they can do the job; try to determine how they will do it.

If you want your HR staff to make a difference, you must be willing to accept a change in the status quo. C-suite leaders who reenvision the role of HR leaders, giving them a seat at the table, will see their businesses radically changed for the better.