HR Lessons From The Daily Show

Laurie Ruettimann Culture, HR, HR (& Life!) Advice, Laurie Ruettimann, Learning

Jon Stewart recently announced that he is retiring from The Daily Show. I learned this news on Facebook from my cousin Katie, who also gave me the flu back in 2001.

(Dang it, Katie. She’s 0-2 in my book.)

Right after Stewart made this big announcement, he appeared on a podcast called “Employee of the Month.” Have you heard of it? I never jumped on the podcast bandwagon because I’m not a forty-something dude with a long commute, but this is a excellent program with engaging content.

Catie Lazarus, the host, interviews cool people about their jobs. And you know what? Most conversations illustrate the point that even the best job is still a job.

  • You have to lead.
  • You have to manage.
  • Even as an artist or a creative thinker, you have to make tough decisions and think beyond your ego. You have to care about the entire enterprise that delivers your art.

So Lazarus interviewed Jon Stewart after his gigantic announcement, and the entire podcast is a hilarious lesson on how “human resources” can happen even when HR isn’t part of the process.

For example, The Daily Show is universally recognized for treating its staff well and developing its team of writers and performers. They have won numerous awards, and they have developed comedians from John Oliver to Stephen Colbert. What’s even better is that everybody in the industry praises Stewart for being a fabulous boss and a lovable mensch.

Stewart brushes off the recognition—because he’s a great leader like that—and compliments his staff for being “good f–king people” to be around.

Too many people use creativity and art as an excuse to be an asshole. Someone else’s success diminishes yours is a bullshit idea. If somebody succeeds, that helps us all.

Stewart hires talented people and lets them do good work. That act is the very cornerstone of everything we preach in HR. It sets the tone for employee engagement. It informs your overall recruiting process. And it defines your (imaginary) company culture.

And what’s so very interesting to me is that Jon Stewart never needed a leadership seminar from his HR Business Partner to develop his core values and beliefs. He knows how to run a business, hire people and treat people well. Any intervention from a local HR pro would wreak of hubris and naïveté.

If Jon Stewart can do great HR without a human resources professional breathing down his neck, maybe your CEO can do it, too.

Lazarus then asked Stewart if he thinks about leadership and development as a formal process. He responded,

Mentoring suggests a much more active process. At The Daily Show, it’s the act of collaboration. The energy spent managing troublesome people… and soothing ridiculous tantrums and outbursts… is energy that cannot be spent cracking a story.

It’s amusing how great talent management practices happen at places like The Daily Show without robots and cloud-based HR tech solutions. I have so many friends in human resources who make things complicated for the sake of justifying their jobs. When we talk about culture and leadership and employee engagement, we are blathering on about what Stewart just described.

If you get a chance to listen to the “Employee of the Month” episode with Jon Stewart, you will really enjoy it. It feels like the best version of an exit interview that anyone could ever design. Lazarus is asking, “What did you like about your job? What worked? What was fun? What will you miss most? What’s next? How can people find you and support you?”

That’s a pretty good way to say goodbye to someone who makes a contribution to an organization.

Lazarus wraps up the show by giving Stewart a few parting gifts: a COBRA form so he can continue his health insurance, a robe so he can be comfortable during his unemployment, and a box of bonbons so he can enjoy watching soap operas.

He asks, “What are you? HR?”

If only human resources were that awesome, Jon.

If only!