Yesterday was my 6th year blogiversary for this here blog. I am eternally thankful for the ride I have had to date with this blog. After 10+years of living HR day-to-day (6 of which I have spent writing about it too) — you have many a-ha moments.
This blog has spawned a business, speaking engagements, brand partnerships and more. I created this blog as a safe space for me to reconcile the things I was experiencing as an HR practitioner who struggled between being human and being in HR. I’ll explain more about that later. Ultimately, the more opportunities I garner to step outside of the traditional HR box the more I see both the potential and disarray of HR as a discipline. Both warrant our attention separately and collectively.
As such, I have decided to share 6 HR or more specifically business epiphanies with the lens of HR for my fellow practitioners to sink their teeth into.
Here we go…
1) One of the reasons that I struggled to find sustained success in my HR positions was I was always striving to be more “human” in Human Resources. That should not be an oxymoron, but judging by discussions I have had with friends who are practitioners as well as attendees of my workshops — there is almost always a moment or moments in which we all as practitioners need to yield more heart than head; less policy and more practicality. No HR practitioner should be working in HR feeling like they are at constant odds between their HR duties within their respective organizations and their own morals, values, and well-being. This needs to stop.
2) Change is happening quickly. Innovation is the new buzzword we all love to hate. That aside, I’m not sure that we are moving quite as quickly towards innovation in our own discipline as we should. If we are the core or the heart of the organization, how well can the rest of the moving parts operate with a slow or non-existent “heartbeat”? Ponder that for a moment.
3) On innovation, we can not afford to have change happen to us, we must initiate and lead from where we sit. Forget “seats at tables” and our usual bouts of being “strategic”. When was the last time we shifted or pivoted for the sake of being a better industry without first being beat down in some doom and gloom article or being coerced by other elements outside of our sphere of influence? Don’t get me wrong, we are very much guided by what happens in our individual organizations and must keep an eye to that, but it is safe to say that we should have many ideas about how HR can be done better and be actively seeking to implement or experiment with them.
4) The truth hurts. That is if you are brave and bold enough you have to realize that speaking truths outside of the normal realms of compliance, strategy, and protocol will rub people the wrong way or they will pretend to not understand. I’d like to believe we have gotten smarter as a species, so it is a little hard for me to believe that people can’t or won’t admit to some of the harder truths working against us like: Why does Diversity & Inclusion exist? Is it because it is necessary for having a sustainable business or is it because there are systems beyond the scope of business and HR designed to marginalize groups of people who are now being “managed” and given “opportunities” under the guise of D&I? I’ll let that marinate.
5) For HR practitioners and HR Influencers alike, if you don’t have a zeal for improving lives, society, businesses — get out! There is a space for you in this world. You owe it to yourself to find it as there is a vast labor market of opportunity calling you to find your true passion and purpose and/or a tiki torch, but I’ll save that discussion for a different day. I have had my fill of HR practitioners who have fallen and bumped their heads on HR and do it with hate and disdain for the industry. As for the “influencers”, many are great, just as many exist to blow hot air about how terrible we are as a discipline while collecting checks from said discipline. There’s a difference between “tough love” and “snark for snarks-sake”. Know the difference. Evaluate yourself and if all outlined here is applicable– get out! As the saying goes, we can do bad all by ourselves.
6) Lastly, there is still hope for our discipline despite the calls for its obliteration. It’s called imagination, creativity, and humility. These three things are the foundation for what HR needs to be in the present and in the foreseeable future. These three approaches to HR and business are not to be seen as scary but are meant to excite, inspire and galvanize those of you who are ready and willing to face societal ills, digital transformation, and rapid growth head-on. The future is exciting and so is the work we have ahead of us.
So there you have it, my epiphanies on HR 6 years into blogging. I hope it sparks conversation, makes you think, and promotes change. After all, the initial intention of The Aristocracy of HR was to raise the standard of HR while always asking ourselves the hard questions about how and why we do what we do.
Thank you for reading, supporting and inspiring me through the years.
Janine a.k.a. Your “CzarinaofHR”
There is nothing but trouble to follow when we believe that we can be all things to all people. We also endanger any good we have the potential of doing by feverishly jumping on every fad. I can remember so many days in HR reading articles about the trends for the year the next year. I would start counting from the day that I read the article (especially if it was published in SHRM, HBR or Forbes) to the few days after-when I would inevitably be asked about the article. The next request was always for me to start sourcing for ways to implement whatever was being touted as the “best-in-class” practice. While it might seem harmless- like we were keeping up with the times; it was indeed harmful. There was seldom any consideration of what we excelled at as a business and why adopting any of these suggestions were worth our time. It was merely a knee-jerk reaction to hearing what seemed like good advice.
Having worked in STEM and Healthcare, every new technology or methodology was not always for us. Composed under these disciplines are an inordinate amount of regulations at the state and federal levels and stringent requirements for doing business that is unlike any other industry. To make sound decisions about how we progressed was a consideration that required a lot of discussion and conceptualization of how to assimilate “the idea” of new ways into the a very rote, and established ecosystem. I repeat, “the idea”. Getting buy-in to potentially purchase was another round of discussion and conceptualization with several layers of approval.
For example, I was with a company that was in dire need of a new ATS and HRIS. I knew they outgrew what they had and all of our internal customers had their complaints about the system as well. To even begin sourcing for a new system, “the idea” was exposed to a six-sigma evaluation which took a few years and only then were we able to present the case to management for why this was needed. What they wanted was something “perfect” with all of the “bells and whistles” that would somehow give others the impression that they were being “innovative”. In striving for perfection and racing towards innovation, they forgot to focus on what they truly needed. What they needed was something with a simple interface, robust reporting features and the ability to streamline what we were doing from a hiring and on-boarding standpoint.
You may ask why were they worried about having “bells and whistles” for the new system? It was because they tuned into the same publications and reports as every other HR department and assumed that because “consulting firm x” says that it is the best then it must be so.
Can we stop with the “best-in-class” or best practices lingo?
What is best for me as a company of 15 is very different if I’m a company of 40,000. Similarly so, the best-in-class mantra does not necessarily work when there are two different companies in the same industry with the same headcount. The differentiating factors between businesses (especially those under the same company umbrella) are endless. Hence why, it is absurd for anyone to assume that every suggestion for innovation, change or disruption should be answered by an obligation to implement.
Disruption shouldn’t be a call-to-action for hasty moves. It is meant to keep us all aware and awake to how the nature of our work is changing. It is up to us to decide what changes make the most sense for the organization.
Consider the following when evaluating the ever-growing list of things to change:
1) How will these changes impact your workforce? In the implementation of the ATS that I spoke about, we actually spent too much time on this aspect. It’s important to understand how change will impact the people that do the work, but you must also be sure that you don’t stifle forward movement in an effort to be a crowd-pleaser.
2) Will these changes benefit you now or in the future? It’s important to consider how you stand to benefit from a short-term and long-term standpoint. If it isn’t clear how these suggestions will benefit you in either regard; it may not be the move for your company.
3) Is leadership prepared and invested in making these changes? It has been my experience that disruptive ideas die a slow and painful death without leadership being invested in the process. The real question is: Are they truly invested in making this change or is this a whim? Many ideas seem novel on paper, but being truly dedicated to the process and willingly traversing the hurdles that inevitably crop-up is something altogether different.
There’s no question that we must always be looking for ways to improve and better serve our customers. The key is not to make moves under duress, but from a place of being informed and prepared to take action.
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There’s no question that there are things that HR can do to change how we service both the business and our employees. The other side of the coin that rarely gets discussed is how HR is fairly low in the food chain when we look at the contributing factors of why the overall workforce has challenges and issues.
The decision to lag the market, lead the market or remain stagnant with regard to wages- like what we have seen in recent years is administered and managed by Compensation. However, wage increases or stagnation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It has to have higher levels of approval than HR. We can say HR may not be as diligent about pushing back, but how far can we really push it? Unless you have a CEO or CFO who appreciates the value of HR’s consultation; HR is fighting a war with no armaments.
If you canvas the open job vacancies online long enough, you will find a strong presence of job descriptions that appear to include responsibilities and duties enough to for 2 FTE’s ; but it is being marketed for one person. In addition, if you go a step further and apply to a few of these jobs and are lucky to have a conversation with some of these companies; you will also find that the pay isn’t nearly as competitive or fair as you would expect given the employer’s expectations. It’s easy to ask HR why wages are down or stagnant, but perhaps we should be asking the CEO’s why they choose to stagnate wage increases when it is clear that they want more from their workforce. What is further interesting is: a 2014 report from The Economic Policy Institute reports that CEO wages at the largest corporations have increased 937% since 1978 (when adjusted for inflation). According to Rebecca Hiscott of the Huffington Post, the average worker’s compensation grew only 10.2% during that same time period.
Less income has caused lower assets, decreased net worth, increased debt and liabilities. Throw in familial obligations and other personal concerns coupled with work pressures and it may not be hard to understand how we still have around 70% of the workforce being disengaged. I believe the tone gets set at the top. Toxic leadership often leads to toxic HR, particularly when we don’t have the balls to speak up or leave. HR can only be effective in addressing workforce issues if and only if the CEO values the people. They don’t have to necessarily love and buy into what we do in HR. If they have a talent first mentality, they will urge HR to do whatever is necessary to attract and retain talent. Under these circumstances, HR has advocacy at the top as well as the license to create programs and initiatives that favor both the business and employees .
As an HR practitioner, I have had the experience of working in many different environments. Despite our best efforts to make a change or address a concern in our organizations, there were many instances where no changes were made (or the changes were completely different from our initial recommendation). This happens because; ultimately we are not the final authority. A lot of what we do is in consultation to our internal partners. We can argue that the quality and substance of our consultation are the contributing factors to the success of any workforce change or initiative. Still, owners, founders and figureheads need to shoulder some of the responsibility for workforce related issues. I’m not blind or ignorant to the unnecessary complexity and toxicity HR is capable of creating in an organization separate and apart from the CEO’s vision; but it doesn’t come from nowhere.
There was a time that CEO’s could say they “didn’t know” or “they weren’t aware” of the systemic issues in their companies. With social media being the go-to platform to expose companies for everything from fraudulent practices to unfair and discriminatory workplace conditions, you better know what’s going on in your company and be vigilant about addressing any issues. HR can do a lot, but we can only do as much as executive leadership will allow. If the organization is driven by greed and lining the pockets of board members and leadership, HR will be directed to aid and abet that approach.
The question then becomes an ethical and moral one for HR. If you are working in a company that is not doing right by the employees (including HR), do you continue to fight beyond your obvious lack of power settling for marginal wins or do you keep your head down and do as you are told?