The Most Boring Answers to the Question “What Does HR Do?”

bored at workI was poking around the internet recently and, as inevitably happens, I fell down a rabbit hole. It started with a review of numerous HR job postings which are always amusing; is there seriously a human being out there who craves the job title Human Resources Point Person?  Then I began to gather the various and myriad answers supplied by business advisors, consultants, and lawyers when they respond to the query “why do we need an HR staff? What will they do?”

So, because I care, I have brought together some of the absolutely most BORING “things that HR people do.”

  • implement absence management (sickness) programs to control costs
  • keep internal HR policies and employee handbooks up to date
  • provide the necessary supporting paperwork for the recruitment process
  • enter employee data into the payroll system
  • order computers
  • manage employee lockers
  • prepare documents for local authorities
  • compile and type reports from employment records
  • record supervisory reports on ability (…what does this even mean????)

As one author on Inc. so lovingly pointed out “people often confuse the terms office manager and HR manager.” Well…yeah. If that’s the kind of stuff HR does.

But…let’s hold on a minute.

I have, over the course of my illustrious HR career, done every one of those things. With the exception of “record supervisory reports on ability” Seriously…wtf is that?

Granted, the “compiling and typing of reports from employment records” was circa 1991 when, believe it or not, we had stacks of paper and used typewriters to put #HRData into some sort of format pretty enough to distribute to the C-Suite. Yup; as an exempt HR professional I stored data in Lotus 1-2-3. ran some additional manual calculations, and then prepared monthly, quarterly and annual reports on an honest-to-baby-Jesus typewriter.

I’ve ordered computers and managed locker inventory (across a campus no less) while holding a Director role. Locker inventory was actually somewhat entertaining. On an annual basis, after posting notices stating “unclaimed and unassigned lockers, even if they have locks, will be opened by the HR/Security Department on xx date,” my team got to go on a locker opening adventure. Wielding bolt cutters in a 21st century nod to Carrie Nation we descended upon both the women’s and men’s locker rooms in a maniacal pre-menopausal cleaning frenzy. Smelly shoes, half-used sticks of deodorant, crusty dinner plates and many (many!) bags of weed were recovered and relegated to the trash bins.

Fun times.

Boring? Perhaps. Was it changing the world of work? Was it innovative and disruptive and generating calculable ROI? Probably not. But it had to be done so I rallied the troops and we did it.

And the next day I still sat in the weekly Executive Leadership team meeting. I still attended the quarterly meetings of the Board of Directors and sat on the Board’s Personnel Committee. I still had P & L responsibility and financial objectives I had to meet in alignment with the numerous people/talent related goals outlined in the strategic plan for which I was accountable not only to the CEO but also to the Board.

Were we, as an HR team, agile, data-driven and business integrated? You bet.

Sometimes though, especially in small/mid-sized businesses, shit just needs to get done. Sometimes she who sports the moniker “HR Manager” still has to do the “Office Manager” duties.

Is it necessary? It often is.

Is it boring? Never.

Plus you may get to flush a huge bag of herbal refreshment down the toilet. High fun times indeed.

 

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HR Technology Next: It’s All About Retention and Re-recruitment

cogRecently I had the opportunity to weigh in on the topic of “The Power of HR Technology in the Quantified Organization.”

How the datafication of HR fits into the quantified organization is the focus of a new paper from LBi Software, which asked me and a handful of other observers of the HCM space to weigh in on this timely topic.

What did we cover? We answered the questions:

  • What Does the “Datafication of HR” Mean to You? More Important, What Should It Mean to HR Leaders Today?
  • Has the Role of HR Technology Changed to Meet the Demands of the Quantified Organization?
  • What Area of HR Technology Is Most Likely to Have the Most Immediate and Measurable Impact on, or in, the Quantified Organization?

In this paper I brought up software that gathers and collects data to help boost employee retention; after all, this may be the year we suffer the double hit when boomers finally retire after the economic downturn and disengaged employees finally exit as the economy continues to at least stabilize.

In my estimation, HR technology that offers predictive modeling can allow HR leaders to get ahead of the game. There may be recognizable organizational value when HR professionals use technology that can track patterns and trends related to work conditions that may lead to turnover — or consider how the use of predictive technology may allow for improvement in employee retention. Some of this requires shaking up the traditional recruiting and HR model in organizations by creating open access to platforms and data across the HR and talent function. Give your recruiters access to the HRIS and LMS and let your Regional HR Managers poke around in the success planning system.

That’s my vision anyway.

So go and check out this interesting and informative paper; also providing insight are Stacey Harris, Steve Boese, Paul Hebert, Lance Haun and Richard Teed.

Analytics? Covered. Assessment tools? Yes. Mobile, trackable and wearable? Yup, yup and yup.

“The quantified organization is here, it’s definable, and the business benefits it offers are undeniable.”

Agreed.

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Attribution: Font Awesome by Dave Gandy

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Why Your HR Leader Doesn’t Need to Worry About the FMLA

fmlaI had a fascinating conversation last week with a colleague who told me about a recent meeting he attended. This was an in-house event, at a fairly large enterprise, and the CHRO took to the stage to speak to hundreds of HR team members. Based on his description I envisioned a mashup of a  gospel revival and town-hall summit complete with overview of strategy and vision, talk of HR initiatives, and a bit of rah-rah team building. They even, apparently, spent a bit of time down in the HR trenches when, at one point, the CHRO referenced the FMLA.

Apparently though, according to the source of this story, the CHRO got the details wrong.

I wasn’t quite clear on the specific inaccuracies; not sure if the CHRO flubbed basic details like eligibility or minutiae like how to track intermittent leave and the specific timeline for when an employer can request additional certification from the employee’s health care provider. Nor do I think the details are that pertinent during off-the-cuff remarks; I’ve processed hundreds (or so it seems) of FMLA leaves and every time one pops up I end up doing a quick Google or DOL search for one detail or another.

My friend, however, was a tad peeved.

“How can the head of HR not know something like that?” he asked. “How can he lead an HR function without that basic knowledge?”

“Look,” I said (while silently screaming OMG in my brain), “this is not Sally the HR Director down the street with 400 employees who, out of necessity, not only devises strategy but also files when stuff needs to get done. This is the HR executive for an organization with tens of thousands of employees. Do you seriously think the CEO and Board of Directors care if he understands the differences between the rolling 12-month period or the fixed 12-month period?”

My friend, who holds a PhD and has taught human resources curriculum for decades, remained adamant in his resolve not to forgive this lack of knowledge. It was his contention that anyone who works in HR should know all the basics; backwards-and-forwards. Taft-Hartley, Railway Labor Act, OSHA 300 logs…and on and on.

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It got me to thinking if this was an HR thing or an academia thing. At what stage, in someone’s career or progression up the ladder of responsibility, is it acceptable to remove the trivial crap from the recesses of one’s brain? Do we expect that high-ranking CMO’s still know how to put together a sell sheet? Does the CFO of a Fortune 1000 company need to know how to run the software used to track depreciable assets?

Of course not.

While a background in human resources, and some time spent working in the battlefields of HR management is nice-to-have, it’s not really a requisite for HR leaders. Not anymore.

Today’s HR leader needs to be a driver of change. She needs to be adept at thinking and operating strategically in alignment with the current (and future) needs of the business. She has to be intellectually curious with the ability to build (and navigate) strategic relationships with employees, peers, colleagues and board members. She has to work on critical issues surrounding culture, workforce strategy, and leadership development. She has to implement HR initiatives that lead to increased revenue or grow customer satisfaction.

She’s a business leader first. Then she’s an HR leader.

And she can Google all that FMLA crap.

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Assertiveness: Flaw, Strength, or a Poo on the Desk?

pooping+dogLast week I wrote a post that ran at Recruiting Daily. Per my sources, this critique overview of SHRM activities got some pretty good viewership. It also led to numerous conversations and feedback as I received a fairly sizable number of emails and messages ranging from “woo hoo” to your “post on SHRM was awesome this week” to someone telling me I not only have guts but am also a clear thinker.

I also had an HR friend chastise me for tearing down the people I’m trying to change. His opinion was that I was merely advancing stereotypes of HR while simultaneously trashing the entire HR profession.

Well…no.

While I admit to a few well-placed generalizations in the post, I also noted that I, myself, FIT half those stereotypes. I wrote the post, I pointed out to him, because I do care. If I didn’t…I would be silent.

SHRM drama. Sigh.

In the larger scheme of things though it got me thinking…why did this seem like such a big deal? Is it because, to reference another generalization, human resources professionals are reluctant to state their opinion? Take a stand? State the uncomfortable truth – as they see it?

Chatting about SHRM’s lack of transparency is not a life or death situation. It barely ranks up there with taking a poop on the boss’ desk and resigning in a blaze of glory.

I gathered that my post just made some HR people uncomfortable. And not, may I state, only the SHRM diehards. Is that because in HR we’re expected to play it safe? “Keeping it sweet” is for followers of Warren Jeffs and the Duggars…not for HR professionals. With that attitude we are but one step away from the prairie dresses and ginormous hairdos.

Is assertiveness a bad word in HR? Most practitioners have built up the requisite skills to negotiate with vendors or brokers. We’ve developed a boastful pride in having the cajones to chastise a manager or participate in a meeting where an employee is given feedback. (note: this is also known as the “PIP” meeting. HR ladies love nothing more than making sure they sit in on every damn PIP meeting that occurs in the history of their company.)

But somehow we’re still left with a whole bunch of HR practitioners who never feel it’s safe to state exactly what they mean or to voice a personal opinion.

“Hey Ms. CEO…hiring Bob Smith as your VP of Sales is the dumbest thing you could ever do and here’s why…” “Hey Mr. CEO, I’m done cleaning up your messes; keep it in your pants or I’m out of here!” “Hey Ms. CHRO…you may be 3 layers up the totem pole from my lowly minion status but you are dead wrong with this initiative.”

I get it; it’s hard to do. It’s not easy to push back to the senior executive who seemingly holds our fate in his well-manicured hands.

But it takes courage and chutzpah and guts to work in human resources. You can be assertive and bold while still being direct and respectful.

You can be smart without being a know-it-all.

Assertiveness might just be the ticket to being a leader…versus being led.

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When One and One Equals More than Two #Culture

Season_1_EndRemember when Mike and Carol Brady got married and merged two households (plus Alice)? The girls had to get used to a dog, the boys had to learn all about Kitty Carryall, and everyone had to adjust to six kids sharing one bathroom.

They never did a Christmas show during the original run of the series, but it would have been interesting to watch how these two groups came together to learn each others’ holiday traditions and favorite Christmas foods (“WE eat ham on Christmas Day! WE make a turkey!”). I’m quite certain, with the lessons we were supposed to learn, neither Carol nor Mike would have dominated but rather we would have seen the creation of a “new” Christmas tradition; “henceforth we shall have a Roast Goose for Christmas Day dinner but Alice will make ham and turkey on Christmas Eve!” Something like that.

The blending and melding of two in order to make “one” that still recognizes – and appreciates – what came before.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve had several conversations with organizational leaders who are grappling with cultural issues post merger, acquisition, and/or growth.

Culture is a powerful factor in the success of any of these situations; culture, after all, drives behavior. During the uncertainty that may arise (“is my position redundant? Will I have a job after this merger?”), employees often wonder if the history they bring will be remembered. Over the years I’ve regularly heard employees lament that post acquisition/merger the slate was wiped clean and there was no appreciation for what “came before.”

In addition, unfortunately, the culture thing is often viewed as something that can be dealt with after the fact. HR and operational teams find themselves focusing on the transactional necessities such as aligning acquired employees to benefit packages, adjusting payroll schedules, or re-calculating PTO balances and neglect the real people factors. There’s often more time devoted to getting performance appraisal systems lined up then there is time devoted to getting PERFORMANCE lined up…know what I mean?

While this is more readily apparent on an organizational scale it also happens even absent a merger/acquisition such as when two departments come together under one VP or a Department Manager is assigned another work group.

So what, pray tell, can we learn from Mike and Carol? I’ve thought of a few things:

  • Don’t go in in assuming that the acquiring organization, based on might or size, has the ‘right’ way of doing things. There may be traits inherent in the smaller work group that are behaviors that should be integrated within the whole.
  • Assess everything. What are the differences – and similarities – in things like leadership philosophies and decision making styles? Are there vastly different human resources models and employment practices?
  • Communicate early and often – not just roles and expectations but mission, vision and values. Talk about culture; the traditions, history, behaviors and the unspoken norms of both entities.
  • What will unify the new team? Is it taking on a competitor? Is it winning new market share? Consider a common goal – there’s the vision! – which can now be reached together through combined strength.
  • Build trust. Confer with every individual employee and regularly ask  “how’s it going? What challenges are you facing?” What can we do to help?”
  • Realize that culture – like family dynamics – is ever evolving. When the kids came back home for A Very Brady Christmas they brought with them new experiences, new ideas, and things learned in the big wide world. Even Jan.

Think about it this way…First, observe. Then consult. Then change.

You can remember what came before…and make something NEW together.

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