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 What holds more from pushing conventional and outdated practices and thinking to the side?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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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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A Changing Workplace: Exploring the Intersection of AI and HR

(this post originally ran at the Oracle HCM blog)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming a workplace mainstay. A growing number of organizations are embracing these new technologies and it is predicted that one in five workers will have AI as an integrated assistant at work by 2022. One aspect of this is the implementation of AI-based tools to reshape the way companies worldwide manage the hiring process and monitor employee well-being.

This shift presents new opportunities, along with new challenges, for HR professionals looking to orchestrate an optimal balance between technology and the workforce. To make the most of this intersection, it’s essential to carefully consider the impact AI can have on HR processes. Allaying concerns that frequently accompany the introduction of advanced technology and understanding how AI actually helps humanize the employee experience will make it more manageable to map out smart strategies for the evolving workplace.

The Potential to Increase Efficiency  

Numerous HR functions can be improved with technology, especially tasks related to recruitment and talent acquisition. For example, organizations might opt to use AI for top-of-funnel vetting processes, such as screening candidates. A digital assistant can gather information and ask potential employees a series of questions related to the job requirements. If the candidate’s responses fit the position, a digital assistant can extend an invitation to apply for the job. This screening process frees up time for HR professionals by automatically handling information and volume in a safe and secure environment.

If the company wants to pursue a candidate, using technology to schedule interviews is not only more efficient, but also provides a simple and satisfying experience for the candidate—much easier and more streamlined than sending 15 emails back and forth with a recruiter.

New hires can also benefit from AI tools that provide information about the company’s history, operations, and culture. Technology can also help new-hires socialize by lining up a lunch meeting or coffee chat with coworkers.

The Need for Ongoing Vigilance   

Over time, HR systems collect a large quantity of personal information about employees, creating risks and concerns around the disclosure and/or improper use of private information.

Several types of tech-related tools may cause particular concern among the workforce:

  • Tracking devices that are worn and constantly monitor an employee’s movement
  • Technology that gathers and analyzes data to identify employees who may be considering leaving the organization
  • Machine-learning technology with biases that build over time, such as a selection tool that aims to replicate successful hires by using data points but may eventually constrict the selecting criteria to a specific, narrow demographic

When implementing new technology, HR professionals can address potential fears by being upfront and attentive. A strategy that includes vigilance, protective measures, algorithms designed to be unbiased, secure cloud-based solutions, and ongoing evaluation may help alleviate concerns and ensure safety at all levels. 

A Chance to Make Work Human

More than one-third of consumers who use social media to voice an opinion about a brand expect a response in fewer than 30 minutes. Employees today tend to seek a similar consumer-driven atmosphere within the workplace. Making use of the available technology for HR functions can enhance and personalize their experience.

For instance, a digital assistant with natural language processing (NLP) could be used to answer common employee questions. Workers could turn to it to answer questions around holiday time-off or to discover specific benefits.  

By automating processes, AI can free HR professionals to focus on higher-level activities. With more accurate data and information available, it may become easier to spot opportunities for improvement, growth, and employee well-being. By applying capabilities, such as looking at how employees spend time on a company website, insights could be gathered related to how workers want to be treated or potential issues that can be addressed early on.

AI has the potential to bring more individuals into the workplace: It’s estimated that machines will create 58 million net new jobs by 2022. While this may ease fears of staff reduction, it may also create a shift in the working environment, with some workers needing to be reskilled or repositioned in a company.

HR professionals that embrace technology and acknowledge the benefits it brings can more fully become, as Kurt Vonnegut stated, “a human being, not a human doing.” 

…… click HERE to read more at the Oracle HCM blog……

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