The 5 pillars of progressive HR

Recently, I read through a newsletter from one of my favorite co-working spaces in Wisconsin. Right there at the top of the mobile page, was an ad for HR services claiming to alleviate organizations from their “HR burden.”

I was shocked — when did ensuring employee and worker success become a burden? Wait, are you talking about compliance? Administration? If so, then why put the abbreviation for the human resources profession in front of the word “burden”? Yikes!

I get it; your experience with human resources is probably not one of extreme excitement and wonder. There is usually one of two scenarios that best describe the sentiment around human resources — the evil HR lady/man looming, ready to “police” you, to tell you that your decision to fire a difficult employee could get the organization sued, or worse, call you into the office to fire you, or alternatively, you may not even have an HR department. You are a business owner, entrepreneur, or executive. New-hire checklists, employee benefit paperwork, employment record keeping, etc. are your compliance nightmare. You have no idea why ANYONE would decide to make this occupation a profession, and you’re not sure you want to find out.

I understand your bias, both conscious and subconscious. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Because for a period in my career, I was the evil HR Lady, specifically the fall of 2010, and off and on in 2011. Granted, the evil phase only lasted a short time period and I vowed never to return when I heard my own voice ringing in my ears — “That could get us sued.” The good thing is that I can now admit it publicly. I have accepted my past and made a point to elevate the HR profession going forward.
  2. Mainly due the narrative that has plagued HR since its humble beginnings in 1901 as the “personnel” department. Personnel existed for two main reasons: to provide organizations with administrative services related to government regulation, and to provide employees with information on resources the organization offered as part of the “employment contract.” In some cases, personnel served as an employee sounding board (but not really, since it was still the agent of the organization).

In the 1990s, there was an attempt to create a break between human resource management and its more stiff and compliance-related cousin, personnel. However, the narrative continued through the early 2000s to now, with low levels of trust and an identity crisis inside and outside of the human resources profession more often than not. This, despite the serious attempts that HR professional bodies such as SHRM and HRCI have made to accredit the profession. I fear, however, that this only siloed HR and its practitioners.

HR assumptions and impacts have not moved as fast as the world has changed. Employees and workers widely use the intranet and internet now, and can and will access information to make decisions that previously required assistance from HR. Our workforce is entrepreneurial. Our workforce is also extremely mobile, and there are fewer times when high-performing individuals will be present “in office.” Information is instant, and what is relevant today will not be relevant tomorrow. It’s exciting! We’re welcoming a new generation into the workforce — Generation Z — and we’re starting the fourth industrial revolution.

If you’re business leader, you (should) want to hire professionals who have a progressive mindset, involving all the functions and disciplines within your organization. As such, all professionals must go beyond modernization of the HR profession and industry to a “progressive HR” mindset.

How did progressive HR come to be? I don’t know. (See my future blog on being an authentic leader).

It deserves mention that I did a search for the term, “progressive human resources” last week.  Google’s first page brought up only one article that did not have to do with human resources at Progressive Insurance.

Ultimately, the term came to rest when I started describing to our clients how I practice HR. It has been a process, and over the last few years it’s been refined it down to five pillars.

The 5 pillars of progressive HR

  1. The big-picture idea is that we are all human, and employee and worker intentions are good. As humans, we make mistakes and learn from them, which develops our growth and experience. Developed growth and experience makes high-performing individuals. Give ample opportunities within jobs, projects, and positions that challenge employees and workers, and make those opportunities filled with a purpose, impact, and tangible outcomes. Support, trust, and respect your employees and workers, and in turn they will be committed to growing your organization while they are working with you, and even after they have moved on.
  2. Progressive HR professionals focus on leadership and being authentic leaders. Management is not leadership, and micro-management is even less so. Leadership is about empathy, not sympathy, and being accountable for our decisions. Leaders are also accepting and tolerant of us, and treat our failures as vital learning experiences.
  3. As progressive HR professionals, we are not tied into administration activities, and we focus on business outcomes, metrics, ROI, data, and predictive analytics to make decisions. Yes, compliance is important; however, it is preventative and not a revenue-generating function. Leave the compliance to your legal team and/or the professionals who specialize in compliance. Organizations are better served outsourcing these preventative functions. Leave the administrative paperwork to your office administrator.
  4. Progressive HR professionals go past offering employment “perks,” and focus on creating initiatives that support lifestyles, workplace inclusivity, acceptance, and tolerance for all talented individuals. This includes supporting all populations of talent, such as women and working mothers who in the past were excluded from the workplace by biased practices. We support a concierge for employees and workers, families, expecting mothers, and others who need our flexibility and adaptability in our new fast-paced world. We ensure equity. Our mindset is to create a safe space without fear of compensation loss, violence, bullying, or shaming. The special sauce is in the business of releasing the human potential, which is infinite.
  5. We tackle the disruption that is upon us. We expect and look toward the rapid change that is the future. As progressive HR professionals, we ensure our organizations are prepared to embrace workforce trends. We have a seat at the table because we create impact. We embrace technology, and build relationships and pipelines with providers that are the cutting edge of early adaption.

Oh, there are so very many topics we can discuss that are relevant to a progressive HR mindset. Over the course of ensuing blog entries I will be writing on topics that are trending, topics that are futuristic, topics that are serious head scratchers, and topics that inform and entertain. Topics including, but not limited to, workplace culture, elevated parental leave, AI, augmented reality, blockchain technology, and the effects that Brexit will have on our workforce planning and recruiting systems in the United States. I will also take a deep dive into business topics with a twist, such as the real ROI of sabbaticals, how failure can be beautiful, and how comedy improv helps to make you a better HR and business leader (yes, this is from personal experience).

I also want you to challenge me, as well as your assumptions of the human resources profession. My desire is to inspire my readers, in HR or out of HR, to bring on a progressive human resources mindset. We are all human and we all work. Let’s have a discussion and make it authentic!

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