HR Plays Too Much Defense…

Paul Hebert Bad HR, Culture, Good HR, HR, Innovation, Paul Hebert, Seat at the Table, Sports

Since @timsackett and @steveboese and @kris_dunn use sports analogies to talk HR, I thought I’d try to slide in and sit at the cool kids’ table with my own little sports discussion.

Defense is about not losing…

What I mean by that is anecdotally I see HR as a function that “protects” the company.  From monitoring legal issues, making sure people fill out forms, checking boxes, following up on recruiting – you name it – most of the efforts are focused on making sure there are no “issues” that might come back and haunt the company.  Check your to-do list.  I’m guessing most of the stuff is about protecting the company.
That is defense.   Like it or not – you’re playing to not lose.

Offense on the other hand – is about planning something that scores points.

Offense is about playing to win.  HR needs more offense.

“We could get sued.”

Real world example…

In a past life, I worked for a company that designed and developed incentive programs for our clients’ employees and sales people.  We were a creative bunch.  We needed to be. We designed innovative rules structures. We designed creative and eye-catching communications programs.  We brainstormed the next new award idea.  We needed to develop new and exciting systems to track and manage data in our programs.

We were for all intents and purposes – a creative shop.

We grew rapidly and needed to move into new offices.  HR was responsible for the move.  (Sort of like a holiday party on steroids I guess.)  HR sent a form to every employee with the list of approved choices for office furniture to put in our new digs.

I had one employee who said he didn’t want any of the choices.  He wanted to bring in an old couch from home, an easy chair, ottoman, end table, lamp and small round carpet.  In other words – he wanted to build a “den” in his office.

I said.  “Cool.”  And under my breath I said – “I wish I had thought of that.”

I submitted the form and HR came back with – “No.”

I asked why.  ” ‘Cuz “ – said HR – “then everyone would want their office to be different and we can’t have that.  And…” they added, just to be sure I wouldn’t press the issue… “without a desk and chair we open ourselves up to problems of not providing a safe work environment and the employee could get carpal tunnel from working on his laptop in an easy chair and sue us.”

That is defense.  That is playing not to lose.

Playing to win…

Offense would be finding a way to make this happen.  An HR department on the offense would recognize that creativity is THE key value we bring to clients.  They would recognize that having a creative space where people want to hang out and work in an environment that lets them be creative drives good business.  HR should have said – “how do I make this happen.”

Remember, the goal isn’t to be good at HR (protecting and playing defense) – The goal is to be good at business because of HR (enhancing – playing offense.)

I get that there is some defense required in HR.  That is part of the job description.  However, when defense becomes your only go-to plan – you’re just doing good HR – you’re not doing good business because of HR.

How would your day change if you started thinking about HR as an offensive weapon on the team?  I think forward thinking companies use HR offensively – Zappos comes to mind (when doesn’t it anymore when talking about employees and HR – jeez they do a lot of good stuff.)

Maybe, just maybe…. HR doesn’t have a seat at the table ‘cuz conversations at that table are about offense and you’re the defensive coordinator – or worse – in charge of special teams.