Over the past several weeks – both in my consulting work and in my personal work experience – I have been struck by how much it seems that Human Resources have gotten away from the “human” element in how we work to support our organizations in achieving goals. In one instance, HR has taken a “hands all the way off” approach, providing relatively little proactive guidance or advice to business leaders and managers. An example of this is not insisting that those supervising people complete basic training on identifying and documenting performance issues. As a result, a business has a plethora of employees who are performing below expectations, placing the organization at considerable risk. This is compounded by some organizational leaders blaming state labor laws for this issue, rather than the real “people” problem.
In another instance, I witnessed hiring and onboarding mistakes that could have been avoided if HR had remembered to engage the “human” more and the “resource” less. Instead, new hires were brought into the organization, without being given the appropriate context, and parachuted into a situation which they did not expect and for which they were unprepared. Unsurprisingly, the hires’ tenure with the organization was considerably short.
Believe me, I understand that there are many pressures on organizations and the HR departments that support them these days – pressures to drive efficiencies, cut costs, automate, standardize, remove as much potential “variance” in operations as possible, increase productivity and essentially do more with less. This has to be one key reason why there is so much over-emphasis on process and technology in HR these days. In a recent blog post over at the Knowledge Infuser, Jason Averbook quotes Lisa Bodell’s Fast Company article, “Five Ways Process Is Killing Your Productivity”. Both emphasize that by going process-crazy, we have overburdened our leaders, managers and employees, thus reducing the amount of time these people have to innovate and create business value. And I agree, wholeheartedly.
To me, the most significant way process kills productivity Bodell identifies is #2 on her list:
” Leaders focused on process instead of people: In an effort to standardize and sanitize everything we do, nothing at work is personal anymore. Leaders look to processes, not people, to solve problems–and it doesn’t work. Where’s the inspiration, the vision? This signals a lack of humanity.”
Leaders over-focused on process and process metrics may signal a lack of humanity, but what I really think it signals is a lack of organizational and personal courage: courage to slow down and engage a person at the most basic human level – the emotional one.
How many times have we heard some version of “don’t be emotional at work”? Emotions are a core part of what makes each and every one of us human. Yes, emotions, and therefore, people, are unpredictable. And indeed, there are some emotions that we want people to demonstrate (Passion! Motivation! Enthusiasm! Optimism!) But there are, dare I say, less acceptable emotions that we want as far from the workplace as possible (Frustration! Anger! Aggravation! Mistrust!) And being the super-helpful, super-responsive HR professionals we are, we have created processes and implemented technologies so that we actually enable managers to avoid dealing with people’s emotions.
Oh sure, we say that the performance review is “all about having an honest conversation”. And we probably believe it ourselves (though I’m not sure that managers / leaders in HR are any better at “having honest performance conversations” than leaders in other functions, to be honest). But do we really, truly help our managers / leaders become more capable in this area? Do we in HR push our organizations to really shore up managers’ confidence that when they do have tough, emotional performance conversations with employees, they will get support from the business (read: HR and legal departments)? It’s a good question for HR to ask itself.
To get back to the “human” in “Human Resources”, my strong personal belief (okay, bias) is that HR get back to what makes the function different from Finance, Marketing, Supply Chain, etc., and that is a focus on humans and all the messy, painful, and amazing emotions that go with them. I’m not talking about corporate love-ins and kum-ba-ya. I am talking about Human Resources taking the lead on helping organizations – read: the people in them – understand themselves and each other better – at a very human level. Otherwise, we may as well go back to being the very impersonal “personnel” department.