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Time To Put The Human in Human Resources

by Todd Horton on April 22, 2020

Steven Wright is one of the funniest comedians of our time. His style is quips and one-liners. One of my favorites is when he says, “anyone who says what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, has never been hit by a bus.” The human resources profession, the entire world is being hit by a fleet of buses and we don’t know how many more are coming.  But, as all the TV advertisements say, life will go on down the road. 

So yes it will go on but in the here and now HR needs to deal with a situation that can literally make or break the organization. So this is the time when HR needs to show it is more then just staffing and benefits.  There is an opportunity to show that HR is the champion of both the employee as well as the organization. As the only group who can keep the organization from breaking in two. It’s time to put the human into human resources.

Let me go into some more detail on that by saying HR needs to:

  • Become the people expert
  • Set the tone for the organization
  • Balance the big picture with the details 

Let’s look at this closer. 

Become the people expert--HR has always been the people expert for certain. You hire them and you build their programs and you try to retain them. But now it’s different, you have to provide them with a unique form of empathy and emotional support that’s never been required before. 

While most organizations provide some type of emotional counseling programs that’s not what is needed here.  People are scared silly of what’s going to happen next. Are they going to catch a terrifying illness? Are they going to see their job cutback, if not eliminated entirely?  Are both things going to happen?

Human resources needs to get to work and earn the human part of the title. Those tools that you used to measure employee satisfaction are needed even more so.  Did you give away some type of reward for performance then give it away for performing during a time of crisis. 

HR needs to work with the managers who have the highest retention rate.   Learn their philosophy regarding recognition and find out ways to adapt that to the larger organization.  Learn what makes the people in your organization happy and then adapt that to make them feel more comfortable.

Set the tone for the organization--We need to draw a clear distinction between this and employee communications.  This is not about how or what to say when communicating with your employees. This is about setting the cultural tone for the organization during this crisis. 

It’s a bit tricky but the first step to take is by letting your colleagues in marketing, finance and some of your other colleagues know that the tone can only be set by extreme collaboration. Everyone is remote so the task is both slower and, given the remote nature of the teams now, easier for misinformation to spread. 

The tone is tough because you have to select your tone and stick to it.  Maybe your tone is one of confidence in employees and the future. That’s perfectly legitimate.  But if you choose to go that route then you need to stick to it once you begin. Tone is set in stone once you start. 

Balance the big picture with the ideas--So then what does HR need to do about the future?  Everyone is talking about that but no one really knows what is going to happen next.  That is the first thing, just accept the fact that you don’t know what is going to happen next and build from there. 

One thing this means is that management needs to rely on the employee team, more than ever, to help them understand how their roles have changed. The next step needs to understand what the people who may have survived the trauma of seeing friends and colleagues laid off.  To act without considering their input would be both cold and callus. 

Look to those managers with the success at retaining employees and those who are regularly recognized and ask them to form a team to help human resources into the next steps. Be sure to vet them appropriately and make sure that your most innovative human resources leaders are involved.  By doing this you’re building that core of leaders and innovators who will provide you with the credibility you need to move forward. 

All of this leaves you with some definite action steps you can take in both the near and long-term

Use this as a time to support and reinforce relationships within the company--You actually have a chance to strengthen your relationships with your employees if you act right.  Become a truly human, human resources team, work closely with those who retain the best and those who are recognized the most. 

Set the tone of the organization-We all know this is a time for empathy and support.  But there is the need for much more. Focus on your tone and stick to it. Optimism is fine, so is confidence and a number of other ideals. Be sure to solicit some inputs from your colleagues in other departments and work on extreme collaboration.  But pick one and stick to it. 

Don’t talk in just the big picture talk about ideas--You’re only going to get so far with the “we’re all in this together talk.”  People are going to want to hear about what’s going to happen. By demonstrating empathy and following the ideas of your best employees you can position yourself in a strong position when business starts to reopen. 

It’s time for HR to step up and put the human into human resources.  The eyes of the entire company are on the group and the HR leaders I am talking to know it and realize it’s about more than survival.  It’s about keeping people ready to move when the world reopens. They know they have the resources to do this but the question I have is if they have the courage to enter into such a unique and, otherwise, non-traditional style.

Topics: Employee Recognition, Machine Learning, employee retention, layoff

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