Time to Think: The HR Knowledge Worker

knowledge worker

The term “knowledge worker” joined our business lexicon courtesy of Peter Drucker; the concept of “knowledge work” first appeared in his 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow.

For the most part we all understand that knowledge workers access and apply information to answer questions, solve problems and generate new ideas. Knowledge workers interact with tools and systems that enable communication and information sharing. They acquire new information and use it in a creative manner. They produce, distribute, and share their knowledge with others. They never stop learning and acquiring new knowledge.

We often ascribe this moniker to scientists, engineers, programmers, design thinkers, creatives, academics, attorneys, and the like. Hollywood versions of the knowledge worker include Professor Indiana Jones, David Levinson (the Jeff Goldblum character) in Independence Day and Olivia Pope.  

They “think” for a living.

Sounds like what we should expect of HR leaders…doesn’t it?

Thinking.

Yet far too many HR leaders, caught up in the grinding gears of the corporate machine, are losing out on providing real value (their knowledge) to their organizations. There are far too many HR functions where every moment is filled with tasks. Busy busy busy. Activity after activity after activity. All in a misguided attempt to demonstrate to CEOs/Owners/Leaders that HR is needed.

But knowledge workers – meaning HR leaders – need time to pause, review, research, read, and ponder. They need to explore hypotheses before acting. When making decisions and weighing “can” they do something versus “should” they do something, they need time for contemplation and evaluation.

Sometimes HR Leaders need to prioritize merely getting together with peers to think collectively. Every meeting doesn’t have to be about getting through an agenda, giving updates on task accomplishment (busy! busy! busy!), or racing though a post-mortem on a problem or incident. It should be about gathering with peers for an off-site discussion or forming a community of practice.  It can be heading to a conference or event for the day rather than cranking out yet another report that no one will read. (Busy busy busy. See how busy I am?)

At other times HR leaders need to purposefully carve out the time for silence and concentration during the workday; grab a cup of coffee, turn off the phone and put on some headphones in order to scroll through the internet or page through a book to foster ideas.

Unfortunately that’s viewed as idleness in far too many organizations. “Susie, our HR Manager, wastes a half hour every day scrolling through websites,” an organizational leader once said to me. “She’s not even working! I need to write her up!”

Sigh.

So yes; it’s often about finding an organization (and a boss) who supports creativity and intellect. A boss who encourages their HR leader to use their brain. A boss who realizes – or to whom it’s explained – that it’s not about formatting and running reports; rather it’s about designing the strategy behind the report data.

Sssshhhh. It’s time to think.

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”—Voltaire

Share

Group Narcissism and HR Self-Love

hypnotizing self-love

Have you ever strolled into the office of your CFO and seen an office tchotke on their bookshelf spouting the phrase “I <heart> Accounting?”  I haven’t.

How many Supply Chain Managers do you see posting on LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook something along the line of “I LOVE my job!!!!” along with heart emojis? Probably very few.

Yet, I’m willing to wager, there’s an HR professional in your life who you have observed:

  • wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “You can’t spell HERO without HR!” or
  • posting on the-social-media-network-of-their-choice “I love what I do!” or
  • having a pre-orgasmic meltdown at the mere anticipation of heading to the SHRM Annual Conference and listening to motivational speakers

Never have I seen a profession so in need of collective self-love and affirmation. If Tony Robbins, Marie Kondo, Stephen Covey and Oprah somehow magically had a baby, that enfant charlatan would be viewed as a GIFT by a wide audience of human resources practitioners.

It’s as if HR is a child raised in a home where parental approval was seemingly only awarded on the basis of obedient performance and achievement. Upon reaching maturity this upbringing has led to a craving for demonstrative affection, love and positive reinforcement (the kind that’s only given when something is done that pleases the parent) and therefore leads HR professionals to participate in an ongoing search for external validation for the duration of their careers.  

We see this obedience and desire-to-please in the manner in which many HR folks carry out their duties;

  • they (or their CEO) believe that HR staff must continuously have a smile (!!!) plastered on their face when walking through the office
  • they put more effort into planning parties (yes they do) and ordering the right swag for employees than they do routing out systemic organizational issues of racism or bias
  • they consider their “worth” to be determined by how well they cheerlead and rally the troops – “C’mon everyone! This ‘mandatory’ team bowling event is going to be SUPER fun!”
  • they believe that posting a quote from Brene Brown on LinkedIn and adding #LoveMyJob (along with 15 other hashtags) is meaningful employer branding  

This “rah rah HR is the greatest!” behaviorism surfaces regularly in world of HR blogging and on #HRTwitter. The platitudes and pablum are often on display within the #HRcommunity or, most glaringly, in any SHRM-affiliated hashtag convo. Everything is sunshine and rainbows and HR is the center of the universe. In numerous online conversational circles, HR folks are forever wearing a halo (the mashup of a supernova and a celestial angel) and the discussion of any shortcomings is never brought forth from the darkness. They’re indulging – in the wide-open they are! – in a mutually pleasuring group masturbation session.  

That’s some Manchurian Candidate HR sleeper-agent shit. Universities and SHRM certification courses and Fred Pryor Seminars (for the Receptionists and Office Managers who have suddenly found themselves in HR) are littering the globe with brainwashed HR practitioners who are unable to push back on the inane demands from their CEOs lest they risk losing their ‘parents’ approval (and thus the accompanying love and affection). Rather, as if acting under a hypnotic spell, this platoon of HR practitioners go forth into the world with a mission to maintain the status quo and color within the lines as they steadfastly refuse to enter into any conversations that may be critical of either their profession or their demeanor.

It’s akin, in some ways, to the reckoning we’re having in the US about our history and our country.

Protesting against injustice, questioning long-held traditions and pointing out flaws, shortcomings and failures doesn’t mean we don’t “love” something – it actually means the opposite.

We love it enough to want its survival.

Share

Turnover, Retention and the Crusade to Assign “Responsibility”

Ask most any HR Leader “what’s your biggest pain point?” and I guarantee that retention/turnover will be up there amongst the top 3 answers. Quite often this answer is partnered up with its companion “recruiting/hiring” since, of course, they share space for all eternity on the organizational mobius strip. 

Depending upon one’s company, the responsibility for lowering turnover/increasing employee retention may be a shared goal (as it should be) or may belong to a specific department: usually HR. 

Which is crap.

When Stan in the Distribution Center resigns it’s not due to the interactions he had with Karen in the HR Department or Sherrie in Recruiting. (Recruiters are another group that tend to have their performance measured, inaccurately, on turnover numbers). It’s quite likely that Stan didn’t even resign because of his direct supervisor or department manager. Oh I know; every speaker at every HR conference for the last 2 decades has posted a slide with the seemingly profound words “people leave managers…not companies!” (And then they act like they are the first person to ever say this and all the attendees furiously scribble these seemingly transformative words in their notebooks). 

I detest that pablum statement. Are there horrible, toxic and downright inept managers out there that drive people away from organizations? Of course there are. But people do leave companies; I certainly have. People may have the best manager in the world BUT that manager’s hands may be tied by the company. 

People quit, resign, mentally check out, get fired and just plain stop-showing-up for a variety of reasons. And yes; while some people get fired for an egregious act wherein they may go out in a blaze of glory, there are sufficient numbers of people who are terminated for performance because, well, they just stopped trying or caring.

NONE OF THIS IS THE FAULT OF THE HR DEPARTMENT. Heck, I would argue, again, that quite a bit of it is not even the fault of the person’s manager.

The reasons why people leave their jobs can be classified, fairly simply, into either PUSH or PULL factors.

Push factors are those over which the organization has control. This includes factors such as overall company culture, pay and benefits, working conditions, trust (or lack of trust) in leadership, and opportunities (or lack thereof) for development or career progression. Push factors may also include the annoying co-worker in the next cubicle, the lack of up-to-date technology one has to do their job, and the company’s propensity to rule via death-by-a-thousand-cuts-HR-policies. 

Pull factors are those things that are outside of your organization (and outside of your control). These factors include family responsibilities (a move, family care issues), personal decisions (returning to school), commute and travel issues, and personal/family finances that necessitate a change.

Some may argue that the siren call of a competitor (they pay more! they have free snacks in the breakroom!) is a PULL factor. In the vast majority of cases I disagree; the number of regular employees (i.e. not top tech talent, the superstar marketing professional, etc.) who are recruited (sourced, called, woo’ed) for another job is pretty slim. But even if it does happen, there is some underlying PUSH factor that leads the person to go through an interview and application process beyond simple curiosity. 

They want to leave. And NOTHING you can do is going to get them to change their mind. 

So what IS the role of Human Resources?

HR’s responsibility is to recognize and understand the reasons why people leave the organization, identify the problem areas, and develop solutions to lesson the impact (financial and otherwise). This requires gathering data (exit interviews anyone?) and synthesizing it, appropriately, to provide some real multi-layered answers. 

There are areas, fully in the control of HR, where adjustments can be made:

  • Attraction and recruiting initiatives lay the foundation for retaining talent and HR/TA needs to get this shit right. The “employer brand” should be real and truthful; there should be no sugar-coating of what the day-to-day reality of working at the company is like. Never (ever) should applicants be promised one thing to get them in the door and then the organization delivers an employment experience that is entirely different  
  • HR, with some heavy-lifting from managers, manages the onboarding experience from the time-of-offer to a date well after the newbie employees start. HR should dive deep to ensure onboarding includes sufficient aspects of cultural assimilation, socialization and opportunities for relationship building (in addition to all the “how do you DO your actual job”) 
  • HR staff should work with managers, and equip them with the training, time and resources, so they can provide a high-feedback/high-touch work environment. Do some supervisor/manager training? Sure. But back that up with the time and money to let them do-what-you-hired-them-to-do.

In addition, there are certainly other areas where HR professionals can have an impact on some of the PUSH factors including offering pay and benefits that are competitive and at appropriate levels and ensuring development opportunities truly exist (and aren’t just paid lip service on the company career site). HR professionals should also do some soul-searching and find ways to ‘lighten up’ on the draconian, bureaucratic HR policies and procedures that provide much of the fodder for the “I hate HR” crowd. 

Easier said than done of course. Depending upon ones’ level in the organizational hierarchy (i.e. any layer below the CHRO) and/or the size of the organization it can be a downright futile exercise. Karen the HRBP covering a small region for an enterprise with 50,000 employees unfortunately doesn’t have much input into the drafting of the corporate HR policies or defining the compensation philosophy. (YET SHE IS STILL TOLD SHE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR TURNOVER!) 

Here’s the deal though…

So often, when lectured by a CEO/Owner/Big Shot VP that she is responsible for lowering turnover, Karen in HR (as mentioned above) who is sitting out at a regional site and has no real power to make deep and abiding organizational changes, will do a bunch of “activities.” She’ll hand out water bottles with the company logo, order in pizza, and kick off an Employee of the Month award. 

But no one’s going to stay just because they might – one day – win the “Employee of the Month” award and receive a $25 gift card and their name on a plaque hung in the breakroom.

The Push/Pull factors are still there.

*********

How much do I like this diving into this topic? So much that I’ll be speaking about it at the Talent Success Conference in September. 

Share

I Refuse to Maintain the Status Quo

I dare say that most humans are creatures of habit and routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in our hurly-burly lives it’s nice to rely on muscle-memory so we can drive the same daily route to the office or know that Friday evening will inevitably be comprised of pizza, pajamas and movies. The usual and ordinary tasks we have are pretty straightforward when we do them the way we’ve always done them.

Naturally this tendency to adhere to the tried-and-true carries over into our work life. Whether we’re cranking out TPS reports or processing journal entries we get into the flow and rhythm. This is also a good thing. People who take comfort in the unremarkable may find a sense of peace cranking through mundane tasks. And for those folks who chafe at “sameness” day-after-day, entering automatron mode allows them to churn through the repetitious soul-crushing chores that exist in every job.

Now envision a department filled with people simultaneously jogging on the procedural treadmill as they push out the same reports, take the same phone calls, and sit in the same meetings week after week. Picture rows upon rows of cubicles. Department after department. Floor upon floor. A humungous organization located in either a suburban office park or on a busy street in a bustling urban city center.

Certainly all those workers are providing some sort of value as they strive to meet organizational goals while, undoubtedly, participating in the latest Corporate (HR) program-of-the-month designed to simultaneously boost engagement, track OKRs, and determine annual compensation increases?

There may be a fancy new name to this program-of-the-month but, let’s be real –  it’s the same old state of affairs.

And when you’re part of an existing entity, whether that be your job/company or your personal life/family, there’s an incentive to maintain the status quo.

It’s easy.

It’s cozy.

It’s safe.

And while human resources professionals are particularly adept at (and quite fond of!) maintaining the status quo, we are not alone amongst our corporate brothers and sisters.  In the corporate setting we’re often more keenly focused on reducing risk rather than setting our sights on maximizing potential.

So we make the “safe” hire. We stick to the same procedures whilst also building additional steps and creating complexity for the most insignificant processes (“let’s have the SENIOR Director sign off for all office supply purchases too!”). We rely on last year’s numbers (and the year before and the year before that). We look backward (only) instead of looking forward. We research other companies’ ‘best practices’ instead of designing our own ‘NEXT practices.’

We stay on the hamster wheel.

I get it. I totally get it.

But as for me? I want to try new things. I don’t want to settle for merely doing what’s easy, comfortable and that-which-has-come-before.

I refuse to maintain the status quo.

Share

Workin’ for a Livin’ – HR Style

Is work something we need to fix? Is work broken? Does work suck? Unfortunately, for far too many people, the answer is an overwhelming “yes.”

Earlier this year my friend Laurie Ruettimann launched the “Let’s Fix Work” podcast where she talks with guests about all things careers, leadership and the future of work.

A few months ago Laurie and I had a chat on “Let’s Fix Work” which you can listen to here. Or, if you’re sitting in your cubicle (at your sucky job!!!!!) and can’t jam out to a podcast because the boss and/or HR lady is cramping your style, here’s how Laurie recapped the conversation:

 

 

What does it take to get the title, ‘America’s HR Lady,’ from Laurie? Robin has been in the HR profession for a long time. During her two decades of HR experience, she worked across many fields: healthcare, academia, banking, gaming, and that’s just to name a few. In other words, she’s pretty much done it all. And when asked how to fix work, Robin’s first question was how we would fix HR.

Robin has a fantastic analogy on the state of work – it’s a hemophiliac who has fallen down too often and gotten too many bruises. Work might be broken, but it’s in the ER and needs urgent care if it’s going to be saved. Robin shares how she thinks we got there, based on her wide breadth of experience. She also dives into the power shift happening between job seekers, employees, and employers. The day of reckoning is at hand.

Robin admits that HR is certainly part of the problem of work being broken, and the reason she gives is that HR as a department isn’t really sure where to place itself in the conversation. It started out as being very insular, and over the years, things have improved. But not enough. While HR departments have come to understand business, the next step is for them to understand the world. And what does that mean exactly? Robin explains.

There’s also a fine line that many HR people must straddle: the needs of the employees and the needs of the business. Sound familiar? Robin says it’s a ‘cop out’ in many ways. Sure, there might be a bit of truth in it, but ultimately, being an advocate for both the business and the employees isn’t mutually exclusive. It’s not one or the other, and that’s where many HR people struggle.

You’ve heard it many times – employees are fighting HR to get something they need. So why should anyone care about HR? Robin reminds us all that HR isn’t a faceless mass out to get you. They are your co-workers and they are people, too. In fact, Robin’s experience with other HR people is that they got into it for the right reasons and with a good heart.

Recruiting is a huge part of human resources; it’s one of the happiest times for both HR and employee. But according to Robin, those good feelings don’t carry over. She offers the great idea of doing the same with employees as they navigate within the company, whether it’s handling health care, mediating disagreements, or even changing positions within the company. Ultimately, this little-by-little change is fueled by people caring for one another. And equally as important, HR people need to bring the stories of employee realities to leaders.

Laurie asks if she’s naïve for believing that if we fix ourselves, we wouldn’t need HR, and Robin’s reply is priceless. In truth, HR as we know it will always be there. It has to be to ensure things are done according to legal requirements. Even with the automation that is becoming far more common, and Robin talks about why humans will always be needed in human resources.

What is the future of HR? Robin sees it splitting into two separate departments or having two divisions within the same department: administration and people. The administration side deals with compliance, payroll, PTO, and the other dry things, while the people department works with employees to help them understand what’s happening, as well as growth and development.

Are businesses and their HR departments ready for the reckoning that is coming? In fact, Robin believes that HR, at least, is poised for the shift. So what positions are in danger? Is the generalist here to stay? What about the firefighter? Robin shares her thoughts on who had better be ready to adapt to new roles and dive into specialties in the near future.

So what does the future of HR look like? Robin has settled on a phrase: she is an advocate of the workplace revolution. It’s time to change – not only should you be an advocate and ally of the people who hired you, you should also be an advocate and ally to those who come to you with their work-related issues. It sounds simple, right? Robin reveals what it actually entails.

 

 

 

Share
1 2 3 17
error

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word.