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How to be Human in HR

When you think of great leaders, who do you think of?

Queen Elizabeth II

Who was she: Queen of the United Kingdom, 1952-2022

Qualities: Lived her purpose, resilience, dog lover 🐶

Fredrick Douglass

Who was he: American Abolitionist

Qualities: Resilience, lifelong learner, a supporter of human rights

There are many others with similar qualities and actions that demonstrate strong leadership.

What is leadership?

Leadership is a difficult concept to define. According to the Oxford dictionary, it means the action of leading a group of people at an organization.

A process of social influence as defined by Forbes. Starts with but doesn’t end with inspiring, aligning and activating. Does it have to end there? (Gallup). What does this mean for an organization and our roles, as employees, managers or owners?

The employee role in the organization.

To produce a project or service, individuals play different roles in an organization. No one’s role is minimized, and for the organization to function properly, everyone makes a contribution that ultimately produces a product or service that impacts a customer.

Traditional organizational charts display an organization’s structure, but they are often structured in a hierarchy. While this can be important for career development and succession planning, it can also leave certain roles feeling diminished.

What if we as leaders and HR professionals instead started thinking of everyone as part of a cycle, with equitable contribution to the end result of the service or product and the customers focus at the center?

Could it make our teams more customer and vision focused, and allow teams to view their roles as part of a bigger organizational picture?

Leadership and team morale.

Leadership has a huge impact on team morale. In fact, 74% of US workers felt that their company values helped to guide them through the pandemic. HR individuals struggled to maintain culture during the pandemic. Specifically, after the pandemic, or as we come out of the pandemic, people are feeling burned out, tired, and disengaged.

I noticed this specifically in the healthcare industry as my husband was recently in the hospital. Watching the interactions between nurses and doctors, it was visibly evident. I can imagine that others are feeling it too. Our mindsets have shifted and other values are important.

A recent workplace study conducted by Gallup indicates:

  • 60% of employees on a global scale are emotionally detached at work.

  • 70% of team engagement is influenced by a manager, yet did you know nearly ¼ of managers receive no training on how to lead their team.

  • Only 33% of employees are engaged in their work.

  • 40% feel like they are not thriving.

When employees prosper, the customer and the company prosper. How can HR professionals and senior stakeholders model behavior to help their employees prosper?

All employees can be leaders.

Gallup and Clifton Strengths said in an article about leadership that some of the traits or qualities of leaders included traits like:

  • Trust

  • Compassion

  • Reliability

  • Hope

The one thing you don’t see here? The term(s) Director, Leader, Manager.

Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes and can come from everyone. This list does not say that leaders have to hold the word manager or leader in their role.

Work team relationships.

How can HR leverage current relationships that exist within a work team to promote teamwork?

How can we leverage the following:

  • Trust – Trust builds a sense of psychological safety. This was a term coined by Amy Edmondson, a Harvard professor, and researcher. This is the ability to share ideas and feedback without harm or repercussion. What happens when this breaks down among a team?

  • During the building of the space shuttle challenger, engineers were worried about some of the ring seals on the ship. Senior leaders called engineers names and berated them to the point they felt ignored… and were ignored. We know what happened.

  • Compassion – Remembering that we are human and work with people who have lives and families. Being a sounding board for people. Being vulnerable and recognizing we don’t have all the answers all of the time. What can we also learn from each other?

  • Reliability- Honoring your word, being open and upfront. Many HR professionals believe that their communication has improved in recent years. We’ve also learned that team members can be reliable in different spaces.

  • Hope- Giving teams the benefit of the doubt. In HR, it's easy for us to become aloof because of the circumstances we deal with. Remembering to give teams the benefit of the doubt.

This helps us to build and promote a community of practice.

Community of Practice, defined.

Communities of practice are simply defined as groups of people in an organization (or entity) working together towards a common goal or mission.

It’s much easier for a team to achieve a goal and mission when we are all working towards the same goal, and we give people the space to do so. How can we as HR professionals motivate our teams to, leveraging some of these skills and relationships to promote and build communities of practice?

Promoting a strong work culture.

What are some strategies that we can use to promote a strong work culture?

  • The Why – Understanding why they are participating in a particular role and how it plays a part in the bigger picture. Going back to the organizational cycle, we all contribute whether we are the janitor or the CEO. We all get in the ditch to dig the hole.

  • Adulting – Giving employees and teams the flexibility to do their jobs how they need to get done.

  • Ask for their experience, get them involved – Ask your team for their suggestions on how they may solve a problem? For instance, a manager comes to HR with a problem? Ask for solutions on how they can get the employee involved in the solution regarding how to fix it, rather than telling someone how they are going to fix it. People are more motivated to solve issues when they feel they have ownership over it.

In practice.

What strategies can we use to implement this leadership mindset, and humanizing HR in practice?

Reframe job descriptions to include the role’s contribution to the organization.

  • Example: This is not just a facilities position; you are responsible for ensuring that the building is in safe working order.

Give employees the flexibility to come up with their own solutions to team problems.

  • You are problem solvers, not just employees. No one is here to collect a check or do a task. Especially with all of the knowledge-based work that people do today.

Leverage your team's prior knowledge.

  • Get to know your team. Do they have prior knowledge or skills that can be leveraged?

Autonomy and accountability

  • You have to give your team the autonomy to get their job done in the way that they see fit. For instance, they may have an efficient way of doing things because they work on a specific machine each day. But we also have to hold people accountable.

Good leadership benefits team morale which leads to better decision making and happier employees? What can you do today to be a better “HR Human” tomorrow?


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