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A brain, a heart, and courage

February 14, 2011

Recently I was reminded of this 2007 article and motivated to do a little research on it and HR. For some other reason I won’t try to explain here, I’m also reminded of the three personal quality themes from “The Wizard of Oz.” So let’s spin away from Kansas and drop a love shack on HR.

a brain

OK, so the article asserts, “HR people aren’t the sharpest tacks in the box.” I see. Not much of a generalization there. The author goes on to opine, “If you are an ambitious young thing newly graduated from a top college or B-school with your eye on a rewarding career in business, your first instinct is not to join the human-resources dance.” That’s sadly true. Many of those top graduates chose to get rich working at a Wall Street casino. I think we know how that turned out less than a year after the article published. I don’t think it resulted in the betterment of people’s lives. Well, except for them, but that’s an unfair generalization too.

Disclosure: Two of my best friends in this life are “HR chicks,” (as described by one of them) and they also are two of the smartest people I know. I am constantly learning from them, and yeah, not about finance. Mostly I learn about what motivates people and how “mutual respect” is one of the most powerful forces in business. It’s like shooting steroids into the gluteus of employee engagement and drives them to perform to their maximus. In addition, many, many people seek their counsel for a multitude of issues, most of them not HR related, but “just bidness.” They’re trusted as business consultants, plus they’re always there to listen and keep people’s heads on straight. Yeah, it’s like having a Psychologist on staff for a cut-rate, which brings us to…

a heart

“Is this about my promotion?” That was the facetious question from a former employee of mine as he entered a sterile conference room with me and sighted our HR partner, appropriately dressed in black hoodness, a large scythe his only accessory. That’s the thing about working with human assets, including the ones you or I may have screwed up managing. They’re human. For every smiling scene of hire or promotion, there are at least as many episodes of looking human beings, some even friends, in the eye to tell them the means to take care of their children are being taken away. Sure, some reliance on detachment is necessary to get this unpleasant task done, but somehow these dull tacks control the powerful emotions, that for others can get in the way of clear judgment and appropriate decision making.

The heart thing is also powerful with customers, both internal and external. One of the “HR chicks” has the most potent embodiment of customer empathy I’ve ever seen. She’s been there with them in the bloody trenches and has never forgotten. Actually, she never forgets anything, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is the loyalty she has built over the years with employees and customers. Having “Raving Fans” inside and outside your organization drives their engagement, and your profits.

and courage

In most organizations, HR is a consultative, but subservient role to other departments, especially the revenue generating masters of the universe in Sales (come to think of it, who isn’t subservient to Sales?). Sales wants what Sales wants, and coincidentally there’s usually a trillion dollar deal hanging in the balance, so most people just play along and give them what they want. Not always though. While researching this piece, I read a lot of “blah, blah, blah” about business case development, strategic planning and correct “HR philosophies,” but in my opinion, the essence of HR is to:

  • Understand the objectives and goals of an organization;
  • Then recruit/retain the right talent;
  • And design/deliver the right incentives so the talent can achieve the goals.

That’s where a profile in courage comes in as one of the “HR chicks” was hiring for the Sales organization. The Sales Manager had a hot-shot candidate in mind, and hot-shot wanted a boatload of money. HR chick did her homework and pushed back on the manager:  What about equity and fairness to the other people in those roles already with years of experience? And what about the attitude of this hot-shot? How will that impact the performance of others in the organization? The manager didn’t budge and made some noise about escalating the issue before doing so. An HR professional fitting the FC article’s weak depiction would have folded and “the right thing” would have walked out the door as the wrong talent walked in. That decision would have sapped the organization of money, morale and ultimately profit, but the uncowardly lioness had the nerve to stand up for the right thing. Courage.

So “what would you do if you had a brain?” Well, you might start by taking a fresh look at these unique talents in your organizations with brains, heart and courage. Just imagine what they could do if they were exposed to more of your business?

Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. Show your HR partner a little love.

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