Reinventing the Human Resources "Function"- Building Cults!

Mark Herbert

I remember when I first made the decision to enter the professional field of what we now call human resources over thirty years ago. My college advisor tried to talk me out of it, and advised if I wouldn’t do that to at least have a "back up" plan. He couldn’t talk me out of it, but I did have a "back up."

I was lucky in landing a position with a mining organization in a "professional" role in Personnel as we called it. I was even luckier to end up in a company where I got a graduate degree in the school of hard knocks. They were a case study in doing almost everything wrong.

  • We had eight unions and 13 collective bargaining agreements in an aggressively "right to work state."
  • The company had been sued by the Commissioner of the EEOC because of documented discriminatory practices against minority groups and the getting caught trying to destroy them…
  • At a time where affirmative action was just really being understood most of the internationally demographic executive team was from places like South Africa…

The cool part was that I was young and idealistic and didn’t realize how afraid I should be so I took on the assignments no one wanted; which got me my next job with an international high technology company that provided me with significant professional and personal development I will be forever grateful for.

Then I had the chance to work for a smaller high tech firm doing some very cool things in health care, employee engagement, and other areas – twenty years before we called it that.

Flash forward over thirty years later and it bums me out to see that many of my colleagues in the profession and their "clients" still operate much the same way they did when I graduated from college.

I work primarily now in the field of change management, employee engagement, and employment branding. I won’t bore you nauseating details about what that means. The short definition is "I build cults." I build organizational systems where there is alignment between the stakeholders and the business goals so that customers, employees, and other "investors" like the community don’t know where they start and "we" begin.

I don’t do it with drugs or brainwashing or incense and week- long retreats. I do it through things like congruency, hiring and selection, training and development and personal competency.

I loathe the term "human capital." It makes it sound like people are some kind of expendable resource that you use up and then replace. I work with people, whole people. I try to provide them with what I consider to be the fundamental rights that they have an absolute entitlement to: respect, responsibility, information, equitable rewards, and mutual investment.

That is all I commit to them. I also refuse to be codependent with them and tolerate performance that doesn’t meet my expectations- I think that is disrespectful.

Fast forward to today. Our economy is still in the crapper for most people. Worldwide employee engagement is at historical lows. Turnover costs the U.S economy $5 trillion a year, presenteeism costs us another $200 billion, and we spend another $100 billion annually on training that doesn’t create sustained change. Our health care system is gobbling up increasing quantities of our GDP and 60 percent of those costs are behavioral and controllable by individuals, but "reform" doesn’t address that.

And yet-

  • I see rants about how awful HR is or whether we need HR people at all
  • I see questions about what kind of "software" guarantees the best hires
  • I see questions about the "ratio" of HR people to employees represents "best practices"
  • Seems like everybody I know is a black belt or ninja or samurai in some fricking system
  • Most of the HR professionals I know are experts in compliance

Engagement, sustained engagement is about alignment and relationships not compliance. It benefits the bottom line, period. The data is in.

The Human resources professional of the next decade needs to have some essential skills-

  • We need to know our craft, that is possess technical skills in areas like selection and placement, performance management and rewards, communications, training and development, and yes, compliance.
  • We need to be highly skilled facilitators. We need to deploy basic management competencies so that everyone in management and leadership recognizes that basic competencies like setting clear expectations, giving and receiving feedback, taking appropriate corrective action, and coaching and developing staff are their responsibilities –with no exceptions.
  • We need to be excellent project managers. We need to understand the businesses and organizations we serve and build linkages between our employees, business goals, and the larger interests of the enterprise or organization.

So let’s cowboy up and add some value and claim our space…

"In my dream the angel shrugged and said, ‘this time if we fail it will be a failure of imagination’, and then she gently placed the world in the palm of my hand" ~Brian Andreas

The choice is ours and it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission…..

What will you choose….?