The Quest for Great HR: Reflections on 2 Days in the ATL

The Quest for Great HR: Reflections on 2 Days in the ATL 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I had the privilege this weekend to attend HRevolution 3 and to spend a day and a half with 130 great people from around the globe who are incredibly passionate about the work and future of Human Resources.  The experience was filled with robust conversations about what’s happening in the work or HR and a palpable sense of the struggle that our profession has in front of it.

Throughout the event, there were a few themes that seemed to stand out to me.  Perhaps they stood out because several people were talking about or perhaps they stood out because they align with some of my own beliefs, but either way they got my attention.

The name of the event is HRevolution, which implies that we come together in the spirit of moving HR forward.  So, that idea naturally tends us more towards thinking about what is happening in HR and what needs to change or get better in the future.

Here’s what I left thinking about.

1.  HR is losing its humanity.  Several people at least hinted at the fact that we (HR) are losing track of the fact that we must ensure that people are still treated like people in the work place.  As we have increasingly adopted process, metrics and efficiency as methods of gaining business credibility, we may be losing sight of the fact that people are not machines.  Unleashing the power of “human resources” is about embracing the beautiful complexity of people and how they come together to create remarkable things.  This doesn’t mean that process isn’t important, but if we put process before people, we may be becoming part of the problem.  And if we in HR don’t advocate for keeping the humanity in our work places, who will?

2.  Unleashing talent happens at the individual, not collective, level.  This really struck me as I listened to Eric Winegardner from talk about how he approaches the management of his virtual team of 30 high performers from around the U.S.  At one point, he talked about a contest they held online where each of his team members sent in a picture of their desks/workstations from their home offices.  Then, the team played a game to match the team member to the desk.  As Eric shared these photos, he commented on how it had really hit him how unique and different each workstation was from the others.  It seemed that each person has created their own idealized way to work in their own idealized space.  Wow.  30 people, 30 very different work stations.  The point of Eric’s session as I took it was this: to get the best of our people, you have to discover with them how they work best, and then relentlessly work to get them what they need to make that happen–not as a team, but for each beautifully unique and complicated individual.  That should probably become the mission statement for HR as we move into the future.

3.  HR feels they need to be less HR to be accepted and acknowledged.  It was disappointing to me to hear how many of my colleagues feel a pressure to be less HR in an effort to be respected within their organizations.  One person commented, “I bet most of our HR staff doesn’t even know what your company’s revenue was last quarter” and he’s probably right.  But who cares?  I think somewhere along the line, we’ve lost a handle on what business acumen really means.  I don’t think I could tell you specifically what my organization’s revenue was for any given quarter either, but I could look it up.  Is this really what we think will gain us credibility with our CEO’s?  I’ve never had a CEO ask me to quote business numbers to them off the top of my head.  There are plenty of people who know the numbers, that’s not differentiating.  Business acumen isn’t about quoting numbers, it’s about understanding how business works.  We need to know how our organizations do business and how we make money.  After that, our goal has to turn to how we unleash the talents and passions of our employees towards making the business run and run successfully.  I’m worried that in our desire to be accepted, we think we need to be more like the finance department.  While we’re doing that, who’s do the really important work of HR?

I love HRevolution.  It is a place for honest, candid conversation about where we are and where we are going in the world of Human Resources.  These things I outlined above are the right kinds of issues for us to be debating and struggling with as the focus on our work continues to grow.  We must keep the conversation going.  But, more importantly, we must continue to strive in a never ending quest to do our work better.

  • Laurie

    I'm with you — sorta. I mean, most employees don't know the revenue size of a company. $5 million? $50 million? 5 billion? I guess it doesn't matter — except we always talk about making an impact and changing work. To do that as HR peeps, you need to go above & beyond and know the business AND the people.

    People make money. People make a difference. HR needs to understand both.

    So good to see you!

  • Jason Lauritsen

    Laurie – I'm on arguing that HR should be out of touch with the business or have no idea about the performance of the organization. I just think that memorizing numbers isn't the solution. HR's business acumen needs to be in understanding how the business creates value and then doing our thing to make that engine hum.

    It was good to see you too. Thanks for doing what you do.

  • Jay Kuhns, SPHR

    Great post Jason. If we don't connect with our employees using plain language, discussing day-today frustrations and successes, and keeping the jargon out of the discussion, then we as HR leaders are completely out of touch.

    Knowing the business is critical, but talking like a business text book is beyond lame.

    Great discussions at HRev…and great meeting you in person.

  • Dawn Hrdlica – Burke (dawnHRrocks)

    Nice post, good convo!

    HR does need to be the defender of culture/humanity/ heart of the org.

    However, they shouldn't and can't be the only propogator of the culture/humanity/ heart of the org. At some point we need to give ourselves a break and know there are other players in that game.

    Numbers shouldn't be your ace-in-the-hole….but you better be able to speak factually and not emotionally, qualifyably (is that a word?) or from the gut when you are trying to be a corporate player. Don't know how you do that without numbers.

    Agreed though…if you numbers make no sense in the context of your corporate goals….they equal a big, fat zero….(how you like that number?)

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Jason Lauritsen