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Reality Check for Human Resources
Reality Check for Human Resources 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

This past week, we hosted an event called The HR Reinvention Experiment in Omaha.  It was a group of HR leaders from around the state of Nebraska who came together to talk about the current and future of HR.  The topics and discussions were very rich and I came away with a notebook of ideas for blog posts at the end of the day. 

One of the conversations that really stuck with me was one on why HR still seems to crave and grab onto any opportunity we have to enforce the law (employment law, safety, etc.).  The question was posed by Paul Hebert as he led one of the sessions, “Should HR be responsible for enforcing the law?”  His underlying point is that HR doesn’t necessarily need to be the cop, but could/should instead be more focused on educating managers on the law as it relates to managing and letting them be individually accountable for upholding the law.  His point is a really good one to wrestle with. 
But, we still seem to like to grab onto issues of law in HR.  My belief is that we do this because the “law” represents the one place were we feel we can grab power.  When it’s the law, we feel confident to say no and mean it.  That feels powerful.  It also pisses other people off and it’s a lot of what makes the rest of the world hate HR.  So, this discussion led into a bigger discussion about the nature of HR and why we haven’t made more progress within organizations being recognized as leaders–why are we still sitting around talking about being at “the table” after all of this time.  What’s gone wrong?
Through this discussion and my own experience in HR, I’ve come to some conclusions about why I think HR still sits on the outside looking in when it comes to the most important discussions happening within our organizations.  
  1. In HR , we have a crippling desire to be acknowledge and validated.  For whatever reason, we haven’t figured out that the merits of good work stand on their own.  As a profession, HR lacks self-confidence.  It seems that we keep running around yelling “Notice me, notice me” when we should be focusing on just getting things done.  Our desire to be “invited” to the executive table is our problem.  We need to stop worrying so much about being loved and valued by our organizations and more time making things happen that create value. 
  2. Great HR is invisible.  Zappos was discussed as an example.  Most people in our business hold Zappos up as the pinnacle of a great organization built on a great culture.  The only name we seem to hear is that of Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, but they are doing great HR at Zappos.  The fact that no one talks about HR at Zappos is a sign that they have some great HR going on.  If you are going to work in HR, you have to come to the realization that our work is about helping others be successful.  When we do that well, the organization is successful and they don’t even notice HR was there.  If you desire to be recognized for every good thing you do, go into sales or product development.  HR gets the most attention when it’s broken.  That’s just how it is. 
  3. Human Resources has a brand problem.  There is a lot of baggage that goes along with being labeled HR in most organizations.  The discussion on this topic quickly turned to the idea that we need to change our name to resolve this problem.  However, a crappy product with a different name is still a crappy product..  Think about Hyundai cars.  Ten years ago, Hyundai had a terrible reputation for making cheap, unreliable cars.  In the past decade, they re-engineered the product and thus, recreated their brand.  Today, they have a totally different and more positive brand.  In HR, if we want to fix our brand, we have to fix our product.  It’s not about a name.  It’s about a fundamental re-engineering of what we deliver to our organizations.   
  4. HR is in the influence business whether you like it or not.  Rather than trying to grab power by grabbing onto legal considerations that give us the ability to say yes or no, we need to permanently let go of the need for yes/no power.  Instead, we have to embrace that we can’t and don’t want to make anyone do anything.  Our objective should instead be to influence others to do the things that will help them to be most successful.  Influence works optimally when the person you are influencing makes the decision to do what’s right AND they look back thinking it was their own choice to do so.  Influence is tough work.  It’s much harder than being the traffic cop in your organization.  HR leaders` of the future will be masters of the tools of influence.  
This how I see HR.  I would welcome your thoughts and challenges to my thinking.  HR of the future must look very different than HR of today.  But, this transition first requires a major shift in how we think about, define, and then execute the role of Human Resources.  
How #HRevolution sparked an #HRReinvention
How #HRevolution sparked an #HRReinvention 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

This Thursday, October 28, something really cool is happening in Omaha, Nebraska.  Sixty or so corporate HR managers and executives are coming together to participate in an event called The HR Reinvention Experiment.  I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to work on the planning committee for this event with some brilliant and passionate leaders here in Nebraska.  Our ambitious vision for this event is that we both start a movement among HR leaders in Nebraska to transform HR and to also serve as an example for at least one way that HR leaders in other communities might activate their own revolution.

But, I want to give some credit where credit is due.  The spark that led to the creation of this event was created at an event called HRevolution.  If you follow my blog or my work at Talent Anarchy, you have read about HRevolution before.  I was really lucky to not only attend HRevolution in May 2010, but was able to participate as a discussion leader.  The event was a blast.  It was energizing.  It was amazing networking.  I plan to be there when it happens again in 2011.

As I participated in HRevolution and upon further reflection about the experience afterwards, I realized something.  HRevolution is like a mixture of band camp for HR geeks and a support group for HR professionals who are either innovators or who are at the end of their patience with their own profession (or some combination of all or them).  It gives us a chance to connect, vent, brainstorm, and get charged up–all important things to do.

Another thing that struck me about HRevolution was the mix of attendees.  By my estimation, I would guess that of the 120 or so attendees at the event, 95% were at least semi-active on Twitter and other social media, over half were active bloggers, and probably a third of the attendees currently held a job where they do “in the trenches” HR (the rest were vendors, consultants, service providers, etc.).  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it does impact the dynamic and outcome of the event.  In fact, this combination of factors is certainly what made this such a high energy, fabulous group of people to hang out with.

The problem is that the group that gathers together for HRevolution isn’t representative of what HR really looks like today.  As I participated in this event and thought about the experience through the lens of “are we really evolving HR?” it seemed clear to me that much more action was needed.  Change in HR isn’t going to happen on Twitter or on a blog.  Change in HR is going to happen when day to day practicioners of the work begin believing and behaving differently.  Social media can help fuel that fire, but most HR folks and a vast majority of HR leaders are still living in an 1.0 world.  They aren’t on Twitter and they don’t read blogs.  And these 1.0 leaders have enormously greater influence on what happens in HR than any blogger in the world.  So, I left Chicago with the notion that the next step in the evolution process was to activate and engage the HR leaders on a local level.  It seemed to me that if we couldn’t get that group in the game, this was a fight that couldn’t be won.  The energy and ideas that form at HRevolution have to be carried back to our individual HR communities in order for them to really matter.

So, I came home to Nebraska from HRevolution with this idea and began ranting like a crazy person to anyone who would listen.  Well, that might be overstating it.  Frankly, I happen to have the great fortune of having a network here at home of really amazing HR leaders.  As I shared my experience at HRevolution with them and my sense that we needed to do something in our backyard, several of them said “let’s do it.”  And an event was born.

Based on the inspiration of HRevolution, we are hosting The HR Reinvention Experiment at a really cool and funky Art Center called the Hot Shops to capture a creative vibe.  Also inspired by HRevolution, we are bringing together some of the smartest people in our field to lead and challenge our thinking about the work and the future of HR.  Our format brings together some aspects of traditional and “un” conference.  There will be some formal keynote type content, but there will also be a lot of room for discussion around important topics.  We are also employing the talents of a Graphic Facilitator to capture the experience visually.  This will be a conference that isn’t highly infused with social media.  Our target audience of corporate HR leaders aren’t living a social media life, so change has to begin from where they are.  Those of us who are in social media will try to share the story as fully and colorfully as we can to make up for the lack of a twitter stream.

I’m not sure exactly what will come of this Thursday in Omaha.  What I am sure of is that something good will happen.  Much like HRevolution, by putting this many passionate people together in one place at one time, there’s no way that it can’t make a positive impact.  And if our small event in Nebraska starts a reinvention of HR in Nebraska, we hope that, like HRevolution, we might inspire someone else to start a reinvention of their own.

HR Change Agents Beware
HR Change Agents Beware 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Human resources can be a confusing place to work, particularly if you are trying to make things happen within your organization.  On the one hand, you are the employee advocate.  Employees need to know you and trust that you will help them through issues, obstacles or problems when they happen.  In addition, you are an advisor to the management in regards to their employees: who to hire, how to fire, and what to do in between.  In both of these relationships, it’s either implied or explicit that you be liked by both of these groups of people.  After all, who wants to work with someone they don’t like or trust?


But, as HR professionals, we are being increasingly called to step up to standards like being more strategic and proactive.  We are called to be change agents within our organization.  If managers suck, we are expected to change how they manage.  If our pay system is out of whack, we are expected to bring it back in line.  If the company needs to cut labor expenses, we get to figure out how.  All important work that we enjoy doing.  But, there’s one problem.  People hate change.  And, through association, they aren’t too fond of the change agent either.  

So, here’s the question: can you be well-liked AND be an effective change agent at the same time?  If so, how?  
#HRevolution x #Recruitfest + Monster = The Death of the Traditional Conference
#HRevolution x #Recruitfest + Monster = The Death of the Traditional Conference 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Throughout my corporate HR career, I’ve always liked to attend conferences. Generally, I find them to be a good way to pick up new ideas and make new industry contacts. I genuinely like conferences.

But, there are a few issues I’ve always had with conferences. The first issue is cost. Most conferences cost so darn much that I can’t seem to justify putting that kind of money into my budget. When I can find money in the budget, it gets put aside to send the members of my HR staff so that they can have that developmental experience. Even this has become increasingly difficult to do, particularly as the economic conditions dictate that we squeeze our budgets as tight as we can.

My second issue is that most conference agendas primarily involved being talked at. They don’t make much room to learn from and connect to other conference attendees. Usually, whoever I sat next to at these conferences ended up dictating who I networked with. And the networking was generally limited to quick comments between sessions. (Confession: I am one of those people who feel compulsively driven to attend every possible session during a conference because I feel like I owe it to my employer to gather as much info as possible–translated, I don’t blow off sessions to hang out.)

Both of these issues have been major frustrations for me and I suspect for many others. And these seem to be problems that no one cared to address until recently. For those of you who haven’t been following what’s been going on in this space, there have been a couple of recent events that have dropped a grenade into traditional thinking about conferences. I know about these events because I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in both of them and to witness first-hand this revolution in the making.

The first event is Recruitfest which just wrapped its third annual iteration this past week. The event was the brandchild of Jason Davis and the team at www.recruitingblogs.com (now www.recruiter.com) . In its first two years, it paved the way for what many began to call the “unconference.” The label “unconference” has come to mean many things, but at the end of the day it really represents a conference format that is flexible and highly participant-driven (i.e. those attending are actively engaged with the session leaders/speakers through commentary and questions). While I was not in attendance at the first two Recruitfest events, I’m told that they were highly successful events packed full of energy, ideas and optimism. Another thing that differentiated this conference was that while it was still an in-person event, it was very low cost compared to other conferences in the industry.

Recruitfest was cool and it was working. But, then came 2010. Even a great event like this one couldn’t escape the grasp of a down economy. It seemed that even this low cost event was proving too expensive for most people. So, they did the unthinkable. They decided to broadcast their event LIVE online for FREE. People couldn’t get to the conference, so they brought the conference to the people. And it worked. Turns out that nearly 4,000 people participated in the conference over the internet all across the country and all over the world. It remains to be seen what happens next, but this event should have sent a shock wave through the conference industry.

The second event that I believe has broken the model is HRevolution. This event has happened twice, once in the fall of 2009 and again in May of 2010. I wasn’t at the first one, but was in attendance at the second. As the legend goes, this event came into existence when two HR professionals, Trish McFarlane and Ben Eubanks were venting over twitter about their frustration that they couldn’t attend any conferences because of the costs. Through the sharing of their mutual frustrations, they ultimately decided that they could create their own conference and HRevolution was born.

What made HRevolution important is a few things. First, this “unconference” event was created, planned and hosted both times by a group of passionate and committed volunteers. This group of visionaries didn’t create the event to make a buck or to promote any agenda. They simply wanted to create a conference learning/networking experience that was engaging and low cost (it cost $100 to register for the event). The other amazing thing about this event was that it was solely promoted through social media channels and word of mouth. It sold out and had a waiting list of attendees. And it was an awesome, energizing, and engaging experience for all of us who were lucky enough to be there.

What’s most interesting about both of these untraditional, model-shattering, mind-bending new approaches to conferences is that they were both title-sponsored by Monster.com. Think about that for a moment. This industry giant is investing in these cool alternative conference events. If you haven’t been paying attention lately, Monster has become way more than a job board. They are doing a bunch of amazing things in the HR space, not the least of which is encouraging the kind of creativity and innovation behind events like Recruitfest and HRevolution.

So, what does this all mean? 

  • Conferences don’t have to be expensive and there are an increasing number of alternatives out there to the traditional expensive conferences. 
  • Conferences can be both informative and interactive. 
  • Social media and the web has changed and decreased enormously the value of the traditional conference model. 
  • Monster has taken on a new and critical importance in our field. They are actively fueling a whole new generation of innovators and leaders within our industry. 

None of this means that the traditional conferences need to go away. Much to the contrary, we need to be coming together to connect and learn as an HR community now more than ever. What it means is that the organizers of traditional conferences need to shift their thinking and evolve their events. At least they should if they truly care about the interests of the customers who attend their conferences. There’s a new game in town with new rules. And this is all great news if you are a member of the HR world.

Hip and Sage Consultant Conference – Debrief
Hip and Sage Consultant Conference – Debrief 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Yesterday, I had the privilege to be a part of the agenda for a funky little conference in Omaha called the Hip and Sage Consultant Conference.  It was hosted by the Omaha Chapter of the ODN and was largely attended by people who carry a title with Organizational Development in it and other external OD consultants.  I was able to attend about half of the conference and I enjoyed my experience.  Here are some of my observations from the day.

1.  The Hip and Sage part of the name comes from the title of a book called Hip and Sage that was written by Lisa Haneberg.  The conference was wholly designed around Lisa and her content.  She gave the opening keynote presentation to set the tone for the day.  Then, she gave her Hip and Sage keynote over lunch.  Finally, she did a closing exercise for the conference attendees to help them bring together their learnings and leave with something actionable.  This was a cool concept.  Granted, this wasn’t a large conference, but I really liked this format.  Lisa is clearly someone who’s got a lot to say (having written over a dozen books I think) and she had compelling content.  I’m sure she enjoyed having more than an hour to shape our minds, and I certainly think that attendees enjoyed having more time with her.  Certainly, this approach would only work if the person you build your conference around doesn’t suck (because that could mean a guaranty bomb), but if you vet your speaker well enough, it’s a great idea.

2.  As for Lisa herself, I’d recommend picking up her book(s).  Her content seems to be a mix of professional guidance for HR/OD/Training professionals packaged in solid personal development messages.  Check her out if you haven’t already.

3.  Leaving the conference yesterday, I’m more confused than ever about what OD really is.  From what I observed, it seems like most OD people are working on projects in the areas of talent management, learning programs/systems, succession planning, and some change management.  I also heard about things like compensation design and org design.  That all sounds like work I’d consider to be core to strategic human resources, but I found that OD practitioners for the most part consider themselves non-HR.  This was a little disheartening to me because I don’t think that HR or OD folks can afford to bicker over who does what within an organization.  Regardless of what we like to tell ourselves, the rest of the organization puts us all in the same bucket–the people who do people stuff.  OD and HR (and training) needs to work as one.  If anyone should know how to collaborate and work together, it’s us.

4.  My session was on the topic of power and politics in organizations.  Here were my underlying points:

  • Power and politics are not four letter words.  As HR and OD professionals, we need to stop demonizing these dynamics and instead study and embrace them.  By doing this, we can use these forces for good.
  • Politics, by definition, is an unwritten process for how group decisions are made that largely revolves around considerations of authority and power.  Politics, in and of itself, is not good or bad.  If we change our perspective to see our organizations more like a game of chess where politics is the rules of the game, we can be much more intelligent and strategic about how we navigate and get things done.
  • Power comes from many places beyond the formal authority of title or position.  Social capital, resilience, and focus are examples of other types of power than can help you to be effective.  Power is also not something that has to be bestowed upon you, you can build your own power by doing some intentional things.  
  • Finally, the sales profession holds the secrets for how to successfully navigate the waters of power and politics to exert influence within your organization.  If you want to take your HR game to the next level, study sales.  Read books on sales.  Go to sales seminars.  This training will propel you further faster than any HR seminar you will attend.  I guarantee it.  
I was really pleased by how many people in my session seemed to really “get it.”  I hope that they take these concepts and can leverage them to be more successful.  
5.  I was energized by the energy that the people in this room have for the work they are doing.  This was a group of the torch bearers for the good work of development.  They seem resolved and encouraged to do great work to help people grow and in turn help their organizations grow.  
6.  There are a lot of talented and smart folks in Nebraska.  This is an exciting place to live and work because of so many people doing so many cool things within their work and community.  
Thanks again to the folks at ODN for inviting me to be a part of your event.  Great job to Todd Conkright and team for putting on a really cool and valuable event.  
Profundity
Profundity 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I feel as though I owe you an apology.  It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted here to my blog.  And for some reason, I feel guilty about it, even though there are about 8,000 other HR blogs there for the reading.  

While I’ve felt as though I should write SOMETHING during the past few weeks, the ideas just weren’t there.  And it has been bothering me.  I’ve been wondering why I haven’t had more to write about recently.  Perhaps it was that my short family vacations distracted my attention.  Or maybe it’s that my work has been consuming of my creative energies.  
I don’t think either was really the case.  Instead. I fell into a trap that I think holds a lot of us back in our careers and lives.  When I thought more about it, it wasn’t that I hadn’t had ideas, because I had.  It wasn’t even that I haven’t had time to write (although time has been tight lately).  The problem was that I didn’t feel that anything I had to say was, by my own measure, profound enough to warrant a blog post.  And apparently I had decided that if I didn’t have something profound to say, don’t say anything at all.
I suspect that I’m not alone in struggling with this instinct.  I’ve seen it at work several times.  After a meeting, someone will stop by my office and share a thought or question about what was discussed in the meeting that I know would have been important to the outcome of the discussion.  I’ll ask them why they didn’t bring it up in the meeting and they will reply that they didn’t think it was that important.  Or, they’ll rationalize that if it was really that important, someone else would have also had the same idea and brought it up.  In other words, they had decided that their question or comment wasn’t profound enough to warrant saying it out loud.
This instinct is one that we should resist.  For one, the measure of how profound a question, comment, or blog post is will be determined by others, not by you.  Generally, I’m surprised by which blog posts are popular and which are not.  It turns out that it doesn’t really matter how profound I think the post is.  What matters is whether or not others find it to be interesting, useful or insightful.  
So, the moral of this story is that we need to have the courage to share our questions and ideas with others.  Even when a question doesn’t seem terribly profound, trust your instincts that it’s probably an important question and that others probably have the same question.    
The lesson for me is to write about what I’m thinking about, even when I think it may not be terribly profound.    You never know when I might be on to something.  And, you can always stop reading when it’s not terribly profound.