Over the past year, I have noticed an increasing level of discussion around HR’s role in creating workplace connections and connecting person-to-person across organizations. As I’ve attended presentations and listened to my colleagues and others, this has been a recurring theme. It seems as if no matter where the discussion begins (diversity, performance management, data, strategy, etc.) it always segues into how well we are — or aren’t — connecting on a human level with our colleagues.
Don’t get me wrong; engagement, performance management, succession planning and the like are all cornerstones of successful business HR. But while we have been pursuing the data and the science of HR, have we neglected the art? Have we lost our heart and become soulless bureaucrats?
Years ago, we were the “personnel” department (though this is something that is unfortunately still true in many instances). We became the party planners, the team responsible for employee morale and office celebrations. We bravely moved from this mindset by adopting lessons from our colleagues in finance and, later, marketing. These lessons included how to build effective business cases, how to integrate effective marketing and branding practices into our talent frameworks, how to leverage the science of human behavior and motivation, and many other skills that have transformed us from “personnel” to being at the center of our organization’s strategy. As most pendulums do, we have swung from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Recently I left a conference where, once again, the central theme was being human and making a human, authentic connection to our workforce, and I was reminded of one of my favorite HR books by two authors I’m fortunate to know personally, HR from the Heart. Revisiting this work put me immediately back into that special HR space: the one that strikes the right balance between the art and the science of our profession. We create alliances with employees. We leverage that special energy that lies between our organizational objectives and the needs and wants of our employees. This magical connection is what motivates me to continue working in HR and energizes me as a leader.
During my journey to become a leadership coach, I learned a key principle that informs my work as an HR leader: “People are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” This core principle suggests a useful framework for how we approach our work as HR professionals. It represents a subtle but important shift in our perspective of the capability of our workforce and its members’ ability to develop solutions. Holding this perspective of our colleagues means that our role is to help our colleagues get to the essence of their issue, understand what barriers might exist and develop a plan to move forward. This is more about co-creating solutions than HR reaching into a toolkit to present a solution.
I have seen this principle come to life in the workplace repeatedly over the course of my career. Once I see my colleagues and my relationship to them through this lens, certain practices fall away. I don’t need to micromanage — capable people know how to do their jobs. I don’t need a 22-page policy on how to complete a timesheet — people know how to code their work and can talk to their managers if they need help with something like this. I don’t need our organization to promote leadership behaviors — people know how to “behave” and understand our values. I see people who love what they do, want to do their best and bring their whole and authentic self with them wherever they happen to be, including the office.
I sometimes joke that my role is to make my function obsolete — to create an environment in which employees thrive, have supportive and exceptional colleagues and leaders, can grow and achieve their heart’s desire. I encourage all of my colleagues to take up this cause and let’s bring the outside in. Let’s create a workplace that provides a seamless experience between an employee’s life outside our organization and their life inside.
You might wonder, how should I do this? Start with a simple design thinking perspective. For example, how difficult is it for you to go to an office supply store and purchase a stapler? Then, ask yourself how hard it would be to do the same thing at work. If getting a stapler from within the office is harder, even incrementally, than getting one from outside the office, you have a significant disconnect. Identify the barriers employees come up against and create a smooth transition from the office environment to how we all experience life outside of work. Simplify, de-layer and repeat. We live in a world where an employee can order a stapler with their phone and have it delivered before the close of business. Why doesn’t the same level of ease exist in our workplaces?
The gap between what we experience outside of the work environment and what we experience inside is growing and organizations that understand they need to close this gap will win. Bring the outside in and create human connections in the workplace by designing a workplace that is made for humans.