Human Resources…and the Reality


There has been much of late about human resources. Who are they? What are they responsible for? How do they really help organizations? And of course- what HR is not doing.

Having worked in HR for over 15 years in many capacities including leading HR in organizations there is fact, fiction, much of in between and lots of gray area along with tons of concessions along the way. Right now discussions online and at venues are talking about where HR failed in light of the Uber instance. I refer to this as an instance because knowing how many companies “work” with HR there are many more “instances” out there that go on daily that either HR has the support to do the right thing, or doesn’t.

Articles have referenced where HR has gone wrong; weak HR; cover ups, etc. but no one is addressing what I feel is the elephant in the room- HR and your company identity.

Currently, I am consulting for a few startups and larger organizations where I am being asked to remedy, fix, build, reorg, design to assist the companies’ needs and where they have fallen short or failed within HR. What I have found in the past and I am now proving my theory of how broken HR is in organizations — — and it is not the doing of HR in most cases.

Why, you may ask? Well, let’s start with a few things we “think” HR does. They are supposed to be cultural ambassadors. They are supposed to attract great talent. They are supposed to retain great talent. They are supposed to drive employee engagement. They are supposed to yield results with great performance and talent succession planning programs. They are supposed to create the best benefit and wellness programs. They are supposed to do everything possible to make everyone happy.

What people don’t discuss is how all these lofty, and at times ambiguous goals depend not just on the HR leader- but on the organization and specifically its leaders. HR professionals are sherpas, beacons, coaches to provide plans and strategies to meet the goals of the organization. If the organization says they want to do something, but does not invest or stick to what they say- HR is lost. Too often, too many times have I heard leaders say I want the best of everything- I want my company to be the best place for people to work. In order to be the best- you must have a foundation of what that looks like to be the best with core values: an organization’s identity of who they are and who they want to be. Then- after all the work to establish these values, the hardest part is sticking to the values. Why? Dollars and cents.

Companies are often unwillingly to compromise the near return of revenue potential if values — — and HR are in the way and even more unwillingly to deal with their dirty laundry of not so good leaders or managers. Values are the backbone of HR to champion them in leading their agenda for all. When values are compromised HR is set up for failure- as are all the employees of the organization.

So, let’s give an example. I once worked for a company that wanted to be the best (just like everyone else). They wanted the best programs, highest morale, awesome employees — the works. They had no values- no definitions of what the “best” looked like- but they wanted it all. The company had close to 65% attrition year over year. Meaning, employees were not lasting more than 6 months and were either fired or left for greener pastures. When I inquired, the response was- the employees were not good- not the best and they wanted the best. The gut check for the company that I provided- is that YOU ARE NOT THE BEST.

We need to establish values and stick to them to be a beacon for all employees and all they do- it is the how. Goals are easy to accomplish- but it the “how” that really defines who you are which needs to be center of your values. I was able to fix the problems for the company in the short term- but long term these fixes were never going to stick. Even with values- they were not honored and employees saw through this everyday based on the “how” work got done and at what cost.

Change is tough for companies- and those who succeed reap the benefits. Those that cannot change and evolve will always be left in the dust along with many now broken employees who feel completely disenfranchised because a company has compromised their development and potential because of their disillusionment of who they really are at the end of the day.

March madness is upon us — and I am a huge fan of college basketball because of the game- and “how” they become champions and get it done. You look at some of the most successful teams and the coaches and they all have embedded values: the way, the path to success. The values and talent of the team of players put together the “how” on the court that energizes the team, themselves and the fans. Plus they have a bench of others yearning to get in the game to depict their “how” with the team. I use this analogy because winning in something isn’t all about natural skill. It is about “how” you can succeed with others and the role you play to make it winning. Who you are, who you want to be and “how” you will get there needs to be defined, planned and followed through.

All in all- HR doesn’t matter if the values and “how” are not defined and cherished throughout the organization. Without this, organizations will continue to falter and fail. So, before you point the finger at HR- question how you are doing things and how people are receiving it. Once you have your current state assessment and the desire to make it better for the future- then enlist an HR leader that you value and treat as an employee but also as an advocate and independent consultant to champion the path forward. Meaning, just because someone works for you- doesn’t mean you can manipulate their agenda, intent and role in the organization. It has to be a shared, holistic goal to embed values in every facet of a company from entry to a new hire to all components of the employee life cycle. The values must be clear and present in all communications, all hands, goals and roles within an organization.

If you are set on doing all of this- then you are ready for a progressive HR leader to keep you on track- and also call you out when you falter and pick you up when you are willingly to try again to get the “how” right. If you are not- then you will be one of those companies- another mirage filled with short time goals and promise- and probably too many ping pong tables and kegs collecting dust because you waited to long to give yourself the gut check you needed. Employees are companies- they are the team. It the leaders’ job to build a value foundation with HR and senior leadership to bring to life for employees to see, feel and live by.

Oh and p.s. — this should be the job of every board too and top of their agenda for overall company health along with revenue and product. People should be first. Or you won’t be.