Tuesday, 8 January 2013

HR are people too

Tomorrow, I am handling a disciplinary meeting. It's a severe case and one I fully expect to challenge me all the way to the wire. It's so grim I've used my very favourite work of art to illustrate this piece to lift my spirits. (Thoughts on this post and my taste in art are welcomed.)

No matter how many disciplinaries you've done, it's never the greatest feeling when faced with the situation. I generally quite like people, and giving another a bit of a hard time doesn't come naturally to me. I think it's because during the hearing, you're effectively responsible for the future employment of another human being, and there's a need to ensure fairness, balance and the right outcome for all involved.

Because that's what people in HR do- well, those of us that like people, anyway. There are a lot of us, contrary to an accusation I've heard that suggests we are misanthropes created by seeing the worst in employees. (Ignroring the fact that we get to see the best, too.)

I hear some common phrases when I tell people I 'do' HR. Here are a few.

"Ooh, disciplinaries..." Yes, there are those to contend with, but preferably as a last resort. There's a raft of stuff a good manager should try first. Want some ideas? HR has those, too.

"It's all women in HR, isn't it?" Oh no. No. Thankfully, no. We've let men join the party for at least five years now. And without them, we'd be in as much of a mess as... as... well, a FTSE 100 company with no senior female executives. Can you imagine?

"People get into HR to make others' lives difficult." OK, first up, by insisting that things get done right we generally make a fair heap of work for ourselves. When we advise on a change to policy or recommend a new initiative, we take responsibility for seeing it's drawn up properly, consulted upon, communicated, implemented and reviewed when needed. It's all for the benefit of everyone affected by it- so give us a break, please. We're not here to create problems, but to solve them.

"They get into it for the power." Because he or she who controls the holiday planner rules the world, right? HR does have a clearer voice in business now that ten years ago but it's been hard fought for. We've had to prove we know what we're on about. Power, though? If I can keep hold of my own stapler for a week I've done well.

"HR just tells me I can't sack people." Well, no, just sacking people without reason has been frowned upon since we stopped sending kids up chimneys. If you really have tried other options, or the offence is serious enough, of course you can take steps to end someone's employment. But you have to have a solid, evidence-based reason and do it fairly and do it right. Pesky HR people insist you do this so you don't end up defending yourself and facing losses of thousands of pounds at a tribunal. You're welcome. No really- that's our job. We like to do it well.

However, while we are undoubtedly heroic- others say the bad things so I thought I'd lift the mood a little- working in HR does not render us immune to stress, joy, anxiety, elation, tears, smiles, frustration, achievement, disappointment, serenity or anger. We are human, and possibly the most emotionally aware function of a business. We do great things, we make mistakes. As I said above, we see the best and worst of people, and it affects us. Like anyone, we go home at night and we think about what's happening- but at the heart of our thoughts are the people, with all their brilliance and nonsense. Pondering how to make a tricky spreadsheet work is no fun compared with the joy of finally working out how to get a team to 'click' or an individual motivated- however many swearwords you've silently used along the way.

Mostly, we love our roles because a) people with their talents and flaws are endlessly fascinating, b) people are unpredictable and can surprise you whatever you think you know, and c) we're masochists we love a challenge.

So when you need your brilliant business to succeed, please remember it all rests on the people involved- and as the function most connected to your people, that's where we HR types can shine.

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