Let’s start by being bold: I dislike the term ‘HR’. ‘Human resources’ – what does that even mean? At Reward Gateway, we prefer to call our HR professionals ‘people’ people, but I’m still not sure I even like that.
And great, collaborative and transformational ‘people’ people really do make a difference in creating (and retaining) an engaged team.
Regardless of what name you go by, here are eight pieces of advice to be the best you can, and get the ‘human’ back in HR:
1. Know your organisation
As an HR professional, it’s time to stop slipping into a reactive administrative function and start being proactive and enabling. It’s up to you to know your organisation’s purpose, strategy, direction and pain points.
You’re responsible for your organisation’s most vital assets – your people – so you should know how those people are going to deliver the objectives coming from the top . . . or if you need different people to do it.
2. Get out of that office
Repeat after me: you don’t need a private office. There are meeting rooms or coffee shops, and it’s more important for you to take that laptop and go and sit in different places in your organisation.
My recommendation is to manage by walking around and hearing the snippets of what’s hot and what’s not. Hear managers talking to their teams. Help with problem-solving. Be part of the team – and the solution.
3. Get rid of as many rules as possible
Empower people to make great decisions. Why do some organisations have so many rules, regulations and policies? I’ll tell you: it’s fear and a lack of trust.
Managers don’t trust their people to do the right thing. They create rule books just in case someone somewhere does something wrong. They manage 99 percent of their people based on a feeling that one percent may do something wrong.
And, because HR is the master of ‘preventing unintended consequences’, the danger is you end up writing lists of policies about things that are never going to happen.
4. Be as transparent as you possibly can be
Tell everyone as much as you can as soon as you can. Don’t ever say you don’t know. Even if you do know the answer but can’t tell them, just say, “I do know, but I can’t tell you now – I’ll tell you as soon as I can”.
There are no prizes for using knowledge as currency. If there were, HR people really shouldn’t be playing that game.
5. Listen (a lot!)
It’s so simple, but not enough people do it: ask questions and listen with a view to having your opinion changed. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything.
Formal questionnaires and staff surveys are great, but not if you’re not going to do anything about what people tell you. And don’t wait months to give them feedback or results if you do.
If your teams are spread out, go out to different locations or use technology to virtually ‘meet’ with people. And if you really feel like you can’t engage with individual team members, connect with their managers.
6. Treat everyone with fairness
Notice I said ‘fairness’, not ‘equality’. Thomas Jefferson paraphrased Aristotle when he said, “There’s nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequal people”.
People are different – they need to be treated ethically, equitably and respectfully, of course. But treating everyone as equal is probably one of the most unfair things you can do. That’s because the differences between people should be recognised and valued, as should their needs and circumstances.
So take the time to understand – don’t whitewash everyone with the same treatment in the name of fairness.
7. Stop making excuses for bad managers
No one is too busy to have a regular catch up, give candid feedback or even answer a message from their direct report.
Leaders can’t abdicate their responsibility – that’s failure in the role. Let’s start expecting our managers and leaders to be just that. If they can’t or won’t, let’s manage them – into a different role or organisation.
8. Help create an organisation that’s based on trust
Let people know that it’s ok to not feel ok. Make it clear that they can talk to you and you will help – that it won’t be perceived as a weakness.
Support a culture in which people don’t think they have to agree all the time; where they can give constructive criticism without getting their head bitten off. (And know that you might need to teach this as a skill – both the giving and receiving of difficult feedback!)
As with any career, perfecting all this takes practice and effort. But by ignoring the impact that a good HR person or team can have on the overall organisation, you’re not doing service to yourself, your organisation or the NFP sector more broadly.
By Tracy Mellor, Group People Director, Reward Gateway. Tracy has more than 20 years’ experience in HR, from training and development to director-level roles.
Reward Gateway provides employee engagement technology to the world’s leading companies, including Fortescue, Cochlear, Australian Stock Exchange, Optus, IBM and McDonald’s. Reward Gateway was a Gold Partner at the 2016 Not-For-Profit People Conference.
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