Hey HR – Is It Time to Be Less Business-y?

This post might whip a few HR heads around.

I’m suggesting that that HR may want to spend a bit more time being touchy-feely and less time being all business-y.  I know you’ve been beat up for the past 10 years about getting that proverbial furniture assignment—you know—the seat that must not be named.  You’ve been told that the path to relevance is paved with spreadsheets, financial data, business models and strategery.

If you want to have influence, and impact the success of the organization, then you better be a better business person.

Well… Bucky—you may need to balance that against your ability to hug it out in the hallways.

EQ – IQ – Tomato Tomahto

One of the big tasks laid at the feet of HR lately has been the whole employee engagement issue.  Getting employees to engage, to lean in to the organization and contribute discretionary time and energy is your job.  And some evidence is suggesting that your ability to drive an emotional culture is going to impact how successful you are in that endeavor.

In other words—love may be the killer app for engagement.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog network ran a post a few weeks back entitled “Employees Who Feel Loved Perform Better.”  The story highlighted a couple of instances (and some research) that suggests the more emotionally connected employees are—the more they feel and express—gulp—“love,” they better they perform and the more engaged they are with their job.

They suggest you:

First, broaden your definition of culture. Instead of focusing on “cognitive culture”—values such as teamwork, results-orientation, or innovation—you might think about how you can cultivate and enrich emotional culture as well.  Emotional culture can be based on love or other emotions, such as joy or pride.

Second, pay attention to the emotions you’re expressing to employees every day.  Your mood creates a cultural blueprint for the group.

I like how they identified another dimension of culture.  Just like you personally are not one dimensional—your company isn’t either.  I believe that having an emotional dimension compliments the more business stuff we’re used to discussing when talking corporate culture.  It just makes sense.

Although This May Be a Problem for HR

But… from an HR point of view this could pose a problem.  I think that the recent focus for HR has been all about the business—to the detriment of the emotional.  It may be too hard for HR to now shift and pivot and embrace (pun intended) the love.

I point you to a post on fellow FOT-er Tim Sackett’s blog where he talked about sending heartfelt notes to the parents of employees (and I weighed in suggesting significant others be considered, too) about the employees’ work and their impact.  Some of the other commentators—HR peeps—said they would never do that. They didn’t see that as part of their role and believed that it could cause more problems than it would solve.  It was (my opinion) too emotional.

And it may be.  Expressing emotion isn’t everyone’s strong suite, especially in a business setting.

But I’ll submit that for long-term employee connection, it should be part of the tool kit and part of the employee experience.

So HR—go out and feel the love.

Maybe the Beatles were right… maybe all you need is love.

What do you think HR?  Is showing emotion and showing love a weakness?  Does it undermine the effort HR has made to be seen as a business person?  Can you still be a professional HR person while hugging in the hallway?

I’m curious… what say you HR?  XO XO

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. Tim Sackett says:


    I knew Harvard would eventually come around to my way of engaging!


  2. Steve Boese says:

    I like the take on this Paul. At some level it seems like no matter how much ‘better’ at technology or marketing or finance or whatever non-HR business discipline you care to name that HR folks get, they will always not be the internal experts in these fields. I think people do perform their best when they really feel like they ‘belong’ somewhere, like it is a place they are meant to be. I think that kind of feeling is hard to find inside spreadsheets and metrics sometimes.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Thanks Steve – emotion also equals vulnerability – and we are loathe to show that at work. Work has become – and probably always has been – a very Darwinian place – and vulnerability equals death. The weakest go first.

      Unless there is protection – and that comes from the culture and from the leadership. That… is what we are really missing IMO.

  3. Chad Atwell says:

    Couldn’t agree more. We’re in the people business, and that means engaging emotions, not ignoring them. I think the ask from business is we do that in an evidence-based way that helps it succeed as much as helps the employees succeed.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      True Chad – and I think it is research like that cited in the HBR post that helps with the emotional discussion. But HR has to be willing to look for that kind of evidence, surface it and then support it. Unfortunately, I think they (HR) would rather show evidence that adding a massage center is a better investment than go head to head with executive row on the issue of management being too standoffish and disconnected emotionally from the rank and file.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Akmegs says:

    YES! Love this! I agree! This is how I manage and we have a family work environment! Great perspective!

  5. Steve Browne says:

    This is ESSENTIAL and where HR needs to be . . . and it always has been. The innate fact that people are emotional first is too often overlooked by us. Meeting people where they are emotionally allows HR to do its best work and, honestly, it will more positively affect the business than any type of us trying to put on the look and language of being business-y. If HR would shift back to where we naturally belong, we’d see businesses flourish in ways they never imagined !!

    • Paul Hebert says:

      I knew you’d be commenting. You’re who I think of when I think of Human Resources with a capital “H.”

      Keep doing that thing that you do Mr. Steve…

  6. Matt Monge says:

    Love this post. (See what I did there?) Seriously though, we preach this all the time. Organizations and leaders — and certainly HR — need to be in the business of creating a more human context for the folks with whom we work. That results in all parties involved becoming more appropriately human, if that makes sense. It’s a beautiful thing.

  7. Becki G says:

    Totally a great post and am happy to see HBR in the mix. Kinda validates emotions at work!

    Time is a limited resource—and there are times when people can choose their personal life or their work life. Truly engaged staff and leaders sometimes sacrifice their personal life for their work life and truly engaged companies sometimes allow these same people to sacrifice their work life for their personal life. Being connected to/aware of the “whole” employee can make for real success both for the employee and the company. “Human Connection” is part of our definition of respect. Sounds a little hippie–then again–I am based in Northern California with a location in Berkeley!

    Of course–there is a professional line when it comes to this that needs to be respected (don’t ask me exactly where it is–it’s different everywhere).

    Thanks again for a great post!

  8. Employees no longer join companies because of the great salaries, or the opportunity for advancement ONLY. They are looking for cultures that have a friendly environment, that they feel good about coming to work each day, and feel recognized…yes, and loved…for the contributions they make! We ALL want to be seriously valued for the “beyond the norm” efforts we make. Some companies are so wrapped up in gross profit margins that they forget to recognize often…and loudly…the employees that help them to get there! Today the labor market is very small, the professionals and strong candidates are employed, and consistently have bigger offers! Companies need to stop and smell the roses..not where they need to be…but where they’ve come from…and who got them there!

    • Paul Hebert says:

      We can make work as bad and as good as we want. I think the days of settling for a bad job are going away quickly. It is getting too important to be part of something that matters. Thanks for reading and commenting. Much appreciated.

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