Who Will Speak For Me ??

As you go into work this week, the first thing on your mind will most likely be a problem or challenge you’re facing. It could be a deadline that is looming or a myriad of other things that genuinely need your attention. I doubt, however, that employees will be the first thing you think about.

If they are your focus, chances are that you’re only thinking about the employees who are causing a problem. The people who are awesome and doing their jobs well are overlooked. I don’t mean to sound harsh. It’s the reality I’ve experienced in the past, and also the observation I’ve had when I hear my peers talk about their work experiences. It’s ironic that in a field that has “Human” in the title, we actually give our attention to a very small percentage of people who work with us.

If you would ask employees who HR represents, they’d say management. I’m not talking about a poor “us and them” culture either. I’d venture to say this reflects most workplaces. I think this is because people see us step in on situations where it’s not going well with someone as the example of what it’s like to interact with HR. Doesn’t that tire you out? Seriously. If you’re only practicing HR to handle people who are problems, it has to be discouraging. This limits what HR can, and should, do for organizations.

HR needs to develop relationships with employees at all levels. Whenever I’ve brought up this concept, my peers get defensive and state how difficult this is to accomplish due to their company’s size or number of employees. I work for a company that has 17 different business units and 1,200 team members over a regional geographic footprint. The vast majority of our team members work on a part-time basis and over different shifts. The challenge to know everyone is real.

So, this is how I’ve approached my current environment. I don’t try to reach every person on my own. That’s not feasible. However, it is realistic to teach others that HR is willing, visible and available for everyone regardless of when and where they work. That message has to be consistent and then followed by behavior. I will go to different locations at different times and dates that don’t always match my regular schedule. I needed to alter when I work so that I could reach others when they work. It’s changed how HR is viewed because they’ve seen that I don’t show up only for problems. There needs to be another important shift to make sure that representing all employees is the norm for HR.

Stop talking ABOUT people, and start talking TO them !!

We’re in a unique position as HR professionals. We have the ability to talk with everyone. Honestly, the majority of my day is spent talking to others. In the past, I’ve had people question the “value” of this approach. Over time, those people are now the ones who talk to me the most. We are the one function that can listen, evaluate, counsel and connect others. Doing this clears the air on items and feelings that may have been long held in silence and frustration. Allowing people to perform has both intrinsic and real value for organizations. This may be hard to quantify on the bottom line, but I contend it impacts it more than people think.

I recently was enjoying some John Mayer, and I think he captured how employees yearn for HR to act when he wrote:

“Show me something I can be, Play a song that I can sing, Make me feel as I am free – Someone come speak for me.”

It’s time for HR to change and speak for others. Trust me that when you do this, you’ll enjoy your role more and you will be making a tangible difference for your team members and your company as a whole. It’s worth the effort. Make the shift !!


10 thoughts on “Who Will Speak For Me ??”

  1. Steve, THANK YOU for this article. I teach HR Certification prep and really want to leave this message with my students. I hear so many senior HR folks, and CEO’s, say HR is management…and we are, but…a part of our job that makes us different than other managers is that we must speak for the employees. To quote Malcolm Gladwell, “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

  2. This is the first of your blogs that I have read. It’s nice to see someone out there feels the way I do about HR departments needing to be literally be “in touch” and “in communication” with employees to let it be known the value they bring to a company’s mission.

  3. It is amazing how many people still want to hide in the old, archaic Industrial model of management when we are in the midst of the Sharing Economy. Thanks for being a voice calling them into the present and future. You are always spot on. I like to say that if we want to breakthrough, we have to be disruptive and operate from a different paradigm, i.e. believing people are NOT widgets. (Hey, maybe that is a future blog post title for you.) As always, thanks for sharing your great perspective.

  4. This is the best thing I have heard from an HR Executive in a long time! Most employees think HR is a company shop. HR professionals need to represent both the company and all people in the organization! It’s about talking TO and LISTENING TO people. Focusing on interest based problem-solving and positive change.

    One thing that has been bothering me for awhile now is, who can help end the gender wage gap? The answer is Human Resources! They can push for pay transparency. Studies show that employees work harder and collaborate better when salaries are public. Second, they can make sure they are offering women pay for positions that are in line with the men’s positions in their organization. Let’s stop trying to get women for as cheaply as possible. Women bring a wonderful skill set to the workforce. Lastly, by conducting pay audits on a regular basis, they can ensure that women and men in the organization are getting paid the same wages for the same education and experience. HR can help end wage discrimination!

    Thanks for listening and thank you for your wonderful article! BTW, I love LaRosa’s as well!

  5. Steve, great post. I like this quote, “they’ve seen that I don’t show up only for problems”. You are trying to change people’s mindsets – including your own. If you can “show up” for all kinds of situations as you suggest, it has to lead to a more rewarding job. Isn’t that what everyone – including HR folks -wants?

  6. I’ve had managers comment that I protect the employees . . . and employees comment that I only do what management wants. My response: my job is to protect the liability of the company and that’s why I listen to and work with everyone and make every interaction a learning experience, either for them or for me.

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