Realism vs. Idealism: Why HR Should Tilt at Windmills

I’ve worked in HR for decades and I want to tell you a secret.

For all our chatter about the transformation of HR, the new and elevated role of the HR leader, and the name change from CHRO to Chief People Officer, we are still, by and large, doing the same shit, in much the same way, that we did it (back at the dawn of time) when I took my first gig on an HR team. 

That’s a broad sweeping statement of course. Many of you will ridicule this sentiment and cry that it’s a bit of a generalization. “Take a look at the innovation happening amongst contemporary HR professionals!” you may say.  I don’t completely disagree with that viewpoint; there certainly ARE people and organizations moving HR forward as captured in this excellent Fast Company article by my friend Lars Schmidt – “7 Ways HR Looks Different in 2020.”  As he points out “HR is a spectrum. While the majority of the field is somewhere in the middle, the leading edge of HR is having a transformational impact on business.” He also acknowledges that modern people teams/practices are a “subset” of that spectrum.

It may appear as if the visionaries are tilting at windmills. Yet some of the enemies of progressive HR are all-too-real and not imaginary at all. I love it when HR professionals take a quixotic approach even though it’s usually not easy. Yet why do those who push for HR change struggle? What holds more from pushing conventional and outdated practices and thinking to the side? In my estimation there are 4 types of people who keep our shoes nailed to the floor:

Those who decide they “don’t need” HR  

You know these people and these organizations. It makes sense when a small business with less than 10 employees realizes they don’t require a full-time HR leader (the wise ones of course engage a consultant or tap into resources as needed). What’s a bit more mystifying though is when larger organizations opt out and decide that the people-driven side of the business is not worth any attention. Just the other week I had a conversation about a multi-state employer with 150+ employees and zero HR resources. They do not have one single dedicated HR staffer and the Controller “handles” HR.  So while I’m fairly certain (hopeful?) employees are getting their paychecks, with no proactive people strategies it’s probably not the greatest place to work. 

Those who “hire” HR

These are the folks who get the HR they desire – and deserve. They’re also the group that keeps the practice of HR about as relevant as it was circa 1985. You can usually tell when a job posting for an HR Leader has been devised by the CFO/COO/CEO; there’s a laundry list of “tasks” related to compliance, benefits and maybe even payroll – usually capped off with “responsible for employee engagement.” These are the business owners/C-Suite folks who believe the role of HR is to navigate the complexities of employees’ medical bills, host pizza parties and run an “employee of the month” program.  

Those who “direct” HR

There is no one who holds her team and organization back from modern workplace realities than the #LegacyHRLady. While she’s often a lovely person, Linda the HR Lady was trained how to practice HR 30 years ago and sees no reason to change. She’s fearful of technology, sees no need to automate or streamline outdated busy-work processes, and  firmly believes that “HR’s role is to protect the company.” She has long been convinced that every applicant, employee and manager is forever looking to “get away with” something nefarious so she adds policy after policy to her already voluminous Employee Handbook while simultaneously devising ways to “catch” employees breaking the rules.

Those who “do” HR 

Linda the HR Lady has, of course, trained others who have come behind her and so now Chad, Heather, Jason and Julie are “doing” HR in much the same way. Oh sure, they may be using a new-school ATS with automation, and they’re accustomed to being in touch via Slack throughout their workday (unlike Linda) but they still maintain a distorted view of the role (and value) of HR. Rather than viewing the possibilities the future brings, they quickly became entrenched into legacy HR work by inserting themselves into every EE performance discussion and monitoring the breakroom refrigerator. These are the folks who develop a great sense of self-importance when they assume the power of rejecting job applicants or insist on personally delivering an “employee write up” to Shanna in A/P because she came to work with purple hair.  

It’s like quicksand; continuing to suck us down. 

So for those of you mired in the cautious and sober world of hum-drum HR I encourage you to ponder:

  • “What would the ideal practice of HR look like?”
  • “If I strive to make things better (for HR) how can that also make my workplace, and the world, a better place?”
  • “Is this change I envision really impossible…or is it, in fact, possible?” 
  • “What’s holding me back from acting for change?”

The phrase “tilting at windmills” often infers that one is pursuing something foolishly impractical; on a quest for something unreachable.

But, my friends, isn’t a bit of tilting worth the effort? 

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‘Tis the Season – Company Holiday Party Memories

I love a good company party. And, at the risk of having my “strategic HR” card permanently revoked, I admit I even enjoy planning them. Over the years I’ve organized everything from sit down service awards galas to parties with DJs, bands and (one time) an improv troupe. I’ve planned picnics for the kids at parks and zoos with the requisite “Executive Dunk Tank” and I’ve coordinated my fair share of potlucks, catered lunches and boozy happy hours.

But nothing beats the company holiday party for, hands-down, the optimal environment for things to go slightly off-the-rails. Maybe it’s the fact that baby Jesus is omnipresent. Perhaps it’s the inevitability of numerous socially awkward staffers making “Santa only comes once a year” jokes. I dunno what it is but there’s something in the air.

So, in honor of the season, here are a few of the more memorable happenings from my company holiday parties over the years. Ho ho ho!

******

Boss: “What are we going to do if someone has too much to drink? We can’t afford to pay for taxis for people.”

Me: “We can have one of the nuns drive them home. Probably Sister Agnes though: Sister Mary Coletta likes her wine.”

******

By 11 pm the booze had been liberally flowing for several hours and people were sufficiently lubricated. Social norms of the office had been discarded and left on the burning trash heap of company protocol.

Jenny, a buxom young lass with a strapless cocktail dress, convinced the usually reserved male CEO to join a frolicking group on the dance floor.

She shimmied and slithered to the club remix of some Top of the Charts song as she repeatedly tossed her arms akimbo and positioned her posterior inches from the CEO for some good old fashioned twerking. With a flourishing twirl she turned to face him, arms over her head….and her dress down around her waist.

Dancing until the song ended some 60 seconds later (“this is my song !!!”) Jenny finally pulled up her dress, tucked in her ample assets, and headed for the bar.

The CEO remained in place on the dance floor in a state of abject confusion for a few moments. As he later confided to me … “I didn’t know where it was safe to look anymore.” 

******

… Overheard at the Employee Xmas Pot Luck …

Joe: “Who made this potato salad?”

Jane: “Karen from Accounting.”

Joe: “Oh hell no. I’m gonna pass. You’ve seen how disgusting and dirty her desk is; can you imagine her kitchen? We’ll all die of botulism.”

******

Setting: upscale venue, seated multi-course dinner, open bar, live band with dancing, suits and cocktail dresses. 6 PM cocktail hour/7 PM dinner/8 PM dancing and frivolity.

Time: approximately 10 PM

Employee: “Miss Robin – I think you need to know that Sally and Betty’s husbands are in the men’s room doing lines of coke” 

(Miss Robin, in full on HR lady mode after 4 hours of cocktailing, takes a quick and purposeful march into the men’s room interrupting not only the snorting party but also random-employee-Joe who is mid-stream at the urinal).

Me: “Guys; I’m glad you’re having fun and I could care less how you celebrate the holiday season but please knock that shit off and clean up this countertop before the big boss comes in here to take a pee.”

The Husbands: “Oops. Sorry. (finish it off). Merry Christmas.”

#LetItSnow

******

Employee (knocking on my office door with a folded slip of paper in her hand): 

“Um….. do you think you can go talk to my manager and tell him we need to redraw names for our department’s Secret Santa? I pulled Sharon’s name (shows me slip of paper) and there’s no way I’m buying her a gift. I hate that bitch.”

******

Employee: “Hey Robin; this is my daughter Trixie who I brought as my guest since my husband had to work”

Robin: “Nice to meet you Trixie; glad you could join us. Having a good time?” 

Trixie: “Yeah this is nice. But I’m in a little pain since I just had my clitoris pierced today.”

Robin: (guzzles martini)

****** 

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Employee Experience: More than a Buzzword

Employee Experience (EX) is one of those phrases that, if one were so inclined, could fill a “Buzzword Bingo” card at most any HR conference/event over the last few years. We’ve been talking about it for a while now so, inevitably, there are folks already casting about looking for the next shiny-object-du-jour.

I say hold up; our understanding of the importance of the employee experience, and our ability to make improvements, is nowhere near the “check it off the list’ phase.

So what is it… exactly? One easy definition is “employee experience is the “user experience” of your company — it’s the intersection of employees’ expectations, their environment and the events that shape their journey within an organization.”

It includes understanding the moments that matter – for all employees. It requires HR professionals to step outside of their interaction with the experience (a process and interaction THEY created!) and put themselves in the shoes of the end-users (employees). It’s about nurturing a workplace environment where every individual can feel a sense of belonging and be successful.

It’s something we should continuously discuss – and we’re going to do just that next week!

Join me on next week’s #MercerChats (on the twitterz!) on Tuesday, 11/26 at 10 AM ET when we discuss “Who’s Driving the Modern Employee Experience?”

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Judging You (on your own recognizance)

As an HR professional, my legal bona fides derive from attendance at numerous employment law seminars coupled with dedicated (some may some obsessive) viewing of Law & Order over the years. And when I say Law & Order I mean the big three of the franchise: the original (Jack McCoy baby!), SVU, and Criminal Intent. I never had much use for “Trial by Jury,” “LA,” or “True Crime.”  (you had to go look those up didn’t you?) 

I can argue with you all day on the merits of the various and assorted ADAs who have strolled down the hallways of the courthouse. I can also dazzle you with my prowess at using legal and legally adjacent terminology like “trial judge,” “motion to suppress,” and “the Tombs.”  Naturally, when referencing “the Tombs,” I do so with a troubled countenance.

One of my favorite (often nail-biting) moments during the “order” part of any L & O episode is when this exchange goes down in the courtroom:

Defense Attorney “We request R.O.R. your honor.”

ADA: “Objection you honor. The defendant brutally committed heinous crime X. They have no ties to the community, possess a personal fortune of a bajillion dollars and will flee the country with nary a look back at the ghastly aftermath of their crimes!” 

Defense Attorney: “The defendant is committed to clearing their name of these false and utterly baseless allegations and is also the primary caregiver for 3 cats and an elderly aunt.”

The Judge: “The defendant is ordered to surrender their passport. Next.”

*****

R.O.R., as you may know, means “released on one’s own recognizance” and recognizance is defined as “an obligation to do something.”  In the courtroom this generally means the defendant signs a written promise to show up at scheduled court appearances, is able to receive bail without paying a bond, and may have to refrain from certain activities or meet with a probation officer while awaiting trial. 

The judge has complete discretion in this matter and their determination is based on factors such as prior criminal history, the severity of the charges, record of good behavior in the community and ties to the area such as a job or family. Interestingly enough the use of bail algorithms (a statistical tool called “risk assessments”) are increasingly being used across the country to aid judges in their decision-making. This is not without controversy however there is a fairly common concern that racial biases are embedded in the calculation (in turn feeding the machine learning going on behind the scenes) and merely serve to exacerbate existing racial disparities within the criminal justice system. Advocates for the use of these risk assessment tools believe that these tools eliminate human bias; Chris Griffin, visiting professor and research scholar at University of Arizona’s law school, has said “Instead of relying on an “amorphous” impression of a defendant, a judge can look at a defendant’s “demonstrated, empirical, objective risk.”

There are, of course, numerous jokes to be made about how one’s job can be like a prison sentence. (In prison you spend the majority of your time in an 8×10 cell; at work you spend the majority of your time in a 6×8 cubicle). 

Yet I also see similarities to the courtroom wherein we (HR professionals and organizational leaders) are in the role of the judge as we:

  • Hire on recognizance (HOR)
  • Recognize and reward on recognizance (RROR)
  • Investigate and impose discipline on recognizance (IIDOR)
  • Promote on recognizance (POR)
  • Terminate on recognizance (when one fails at their ‘obligation to do something’) (TOR)

And, thanks to all the fancy HR tech out there, we’re using algorithms to make our decisions and removing, bit by bit, the human discretion and decision making on which we used to rely. 

What would Jack McCoy do? 

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What’s New? Cool Kick-Ass HR Stuff!

Over the last 10 years I’ve used my blog to philosophically wax and wane about all things HR. I like to think I’ve had some profound things to say when I’ve taken on a particular topic but, of course, also realize there have been many times when I was musing merely for my own enjoyment. I’ve talked, over the years, about Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy (the first one), menstruation, clueless HR and organizational practices and, in one of my most popular recent posts, the disconnect between “conference HR” and “real world HR.”

(Q: how many pundits does it take to discuss culture, engagement or “why recruiting is like marketing”? A: probably none).

Nevertheless, I persisted.

And now, because I can, I’m using my little corner of the internet to talk about something exciting and, quite frankly, a bit promotional.

The company I joined last year (as Head of People) is heading towards a new and exciting future as we recently transitioned to a new moniker (Peridus Group) and unveiled our sexy new web site!

We remain, at our core, a boutique consulting firm fixing problems and doing cool shit. We consult on HR Technology + Systems work (especially Workday integrations, implementations and managed services), Talent + Recruiting (contract recruiting and RPO), and NOW (here’s the new stuff!) we’ve added an HR + People Strategy practice headed by yours truly.

The HR + People Strategy group aligns with our firm’s raison d’etre: providing talent strategy and solutions for independent thinkers.  On the HR + People Strategy side that translates to mean “this ain’t your mama’s HR” since:

  • We believe the future of HR includes tossing aside non-functioning legacy practices in order to create people strategies that are vibrant, pro-active and nimble. 
  • We share research and insight that can inform decisions and drive innovation in all areas of an organization’s people operations and the experience of its employees. 
  • We don’t take what many think of as the typical (and stereotyped) human resources approach. While we’re mindful of underlying compliance and legislative issues (hey; we’re the SMEs after all) we like to focus on the “possibilities” … not the policies. We push our clients to contemplate “what CAN we do rather than what CAN’T we do.” 
  • And I, as the architect of this group, am most assuredly not your mama’s HR ……..

So yeah; pretty exciting. In addition to providing general consulting, project work and training/workshop facilitations, we also offer an HR managed service option which is ideal when the company doesn’t have a dedicated and experienced human resources leader or the Leadership team/HR Leader could benefit from additional support on planning, strategy and implementation of forward-thinking people strategies that can boost the attraction, recruitment, retention and development of talent.

Wanna chat about what I’m doing now? Hit me up at robin@peridusgroup.com.

Let’s work together!

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