“Human Resources”: A rose by any other name

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Ok I get it – “Human Resources” is not a widely understood term.  The title is a bit cold and uninspiring, and people don’t want to be referred to as “resources”, but rather as living, breathing, creative beings.  “Human Resources” doesn’t really reflect the skillset within the profession either:  there is no hint of staffing or training, recruiting or leadership coaching, strategic planning or interviewing, onboarding or outplacement, contract negotiation or employment law…  “Human Resources” is a broad businessy term with no tangible indication of friendliness, supportiveness, or of helping people succeed in their work.

Fair enough.  Many companies avoid “Human Resources” by using the abbreviation “HR” (I often use this term because it’s shorter and friendlier), and others have created new titles that suit their culture better, such as Manager of “People Potential” or “Talent”.  Until a new term is commonly used, I’m happy to just work hard for my clients and companies, and to talk about the meaning of HR as I perceive it, and (more importantly) how it pertains to their individual needs.

As an HR professional who has also had a long career in project management and development, and who has often been a customer and a partner to HR, I know firsthand that the role of HR isn’t always clear to everyone.  At the heart of the profession is a focus on employees, their potential, and their success within a company.  In the overall corporate balance, it is important to have someone more focused on people and process than on product or finance, but who appreciates that all of these aspects are critical to a company’s success.

Here’s what I care about:  Are the right employees performing the right jobs at the right times?  Are they trained?  Are they happy?  Do they know what is expected of them?  Are they treated fairly and legally?  Do they have everything they need in order to thrive at work?  Are their managers and leaders trained and engaged?  Is their company thinking about future hires, succession plans, performance measurements, rewards, promotions, competitive salary ranges?  Are people being hired properly, introduced to their responsibilities thoroughly, and also terminated when it makes sense?  Do they have a voice at the company, and are the right people listening?

A great company cares about their people because they know that great employees are critical to a company’s success, that it is difficult and expensive to find and hire them, and that great employees leave companies when they are not challenged or appreciated.  Great employees also leave when their managers are not strong, and when they are not given opportunities to do good work or grow their skills.  A great company knows that a strong reputation as an employer matters, and that people will work harder (and for less money) if they feel good about what they are doing and about who they are doing it for.  A great company understands the importance of clear roles and expectations, solid hiring and onboarding practices, and the need to recognize when an employee isn’t working out – as well as the desire and ability to find out why, and to do something about it, even if that means letting them go.

Many startup companies have fewer employees who are, by necessity, forced to wear multiple hats – founders often juggle the roles of CEO, CTO, COO, HR, Administration, Office Manager, Caterer, Programmer, Web Designer, Janitor –this is just the reality of running a lean machine until there is more money to spend.  However, because employees thrive when they are managed and guided by people who like and appreciate (and are skilled at) managing them, these companies often make the decision to invest in HR, in either full-time or consultant form, as early as possible.  HR, if used well, can help a company find the best people, use them wisely, set them up for success, and help them stay motivated, active, innovative, and hard-working over the long-term.  Essentially, where there are humans, there is a need for someone who specializes in them.

Grow Good

Project House Grow GoodWhether your company is tiny and eager to add people and reach a critical mass, or trying to find a rhythm of swelling and shrinking with the seasons, there is often an impulse to grow big and grow fast.

I try to encourage my companies and clients to focus instead on “growing good”.

In other words, if you add to the level of goodness of your business, your staff, and your place of work, your employees and clients will get more out of their experience with you, which will add to the value of your business overall.

Is every person you add to your team going to bring value to your work environment, as well as to your business?  Are you hiring and rewarding people who will make you think differently, consider your impact on your community, and behave better as a manager or business owner?

As a leader, are you modeling goodness?  Have you shared your knowledge in order to add value, or have you done it just to show how much you know?  Are you really listening to the people around you, or simply waiting for your turn to speak?  Do you share information so that everyone has the same opportunity to come up with great ideas, or do you hold onto it for fear that sharing it might somehow weaken your position?  Do you celebrate the strengths and skills of your team, or do you pick at their mistakes?  Do you claim to know and value your city and your community, and if so, does that show up in anything you do with your staff or with your business?

Are you encouraging your staff to leave every room better than they found it, by contributing in meetings, by encouraging their peers, by sharing their knowledge, by bringing up the mood, by making the people around them better?  What types of success do you reward?  Do you publicly praise sales results, but not teamwork or behind-the-scenes effort?  Do you have employees who behave poorly but who are exempt from critical feedback because they work hard or finish their code on time?

By sharing your business goals and challenges honestly with your employees, and by encouraging a positive environment where company values are clear (and real, and followed, and up-to-date), you can nurture what I call “managerial courage”, where employees of all levels feel confident to speak out when things aren’t going in the right direction or seem to be falling outside company values, without being afraid of ruffling feathers or being perceived as trouble-makers.

If you focus on growing good as you grow big, your existing team will model the kind of behaviour that you want new hires to feel and follow.  You will be growing stronger leaders and better “corporate citizens”, and this effort will be encouraged by your whole staff, not just by you.  Employees will reach into their networks and recommend their friends for job openings, they will share positive stories about your company and their experience to family and friends, they will post your successes on social media.  They will be more engaged in their work, and more invested in your business.  They will be powerful ambassadors for your company, and in this way they will help you reach your business goals (including rapid growth, if that’s also what you need) more quickly and effectively.

In other words, growing good is a powerful business tool, and, if embraced sincerely and seriously, it can easily become a key part of your true culture and your success.

(Originally posted on November 1, 2013)