Do you know the origin story of the HR profession? “Human Resources” as a function was born during the Industrial Revolution, as heads-of-household, mostly men, began to flock to cities from their dwindling family farms in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Rumors of wealth beyond wildest dreams swept the countryside, and men arrived in droves to cities looking for work as laborers.
In reality? Wages were low and working conditions were inhumane. Laborers were expected to work all hours, with no days off, and if they complained, another laborer was waiting to take their spot. There was no balance, no quality of life, no leverage for the worker to demand a living wage or tolerable work environment.
Enter the HR professional. The only job of early HR leadership was to advocate for the people. And isn’t that what still draws most HR professionals to their career path today? But if you ask any of our friends in HR how many of their working hours they actually spend on advocating strategically for their teams, the answer is universally low – around 10-15% estimated by most. What are they doing instead? Organizational planning, risk mitigation, crisis management. In short, the role of HR within an organization has migrated over time from being human-centric, to being company-centric.
So how do we get the “human” back into Human Resources?
- The Right Tools
Arming your HR and management teams with the right tools to automate necessary processes can do wonders to free up time and resources for advocating and strategy work. This can be as simple as an improved payroll process that eliminates any manual entries or as complex as a fully integrated HR suite of tools and benefits. Whatever this looks like at the current stage of your organization, staying on top of the latest technology offerings in this arena and polling your HR teams for regular feedback on their priorities and wish list is a rhythm that will pay off in both efficiency in budget planning and job satisfaction of your HR team.
- The Right Metrics
Alignment of compensation structures with people-centric goals rather than a sole focus on organizational aims is a sure-fire way to get leadership at all levels motivated focus on their teams. Is employee engagement tracked as a KPI? If so, how often is this measured? Compare that with how frequently your organization reviews sales metrics and you’ll get a clear picture of leadership priorities. Once leadership compensation is tied directly to a metric, you better believe it will be reviewed often and with productive scrutiny.
- The Right Benefits
Without bias (OK, we can’t help it), benefits are the most tangible way to demonstrate employee support and to translate employee feedback into action. Your benefits plan should be personal to you as an organization, as well as able to be personalized to the needs of each employee and their dependents. This is tough work! With so many options out there today, focus on benefits that are flexible to meet varied needs without customization (i.e.. different stages of life and priorities), and benefits that are forward-looking. Checking the box does not cut it anymore, especially if you are focused on attracting and retaining talent, so ask yourself: does this benefit set me up to be cutting edge for the next five or ten years? If the answer is no, keep looking.
- The Right Leaders
Leadership is central to the success of almost every business initiative, so it’s no surprise that having the right people in leadership roles will determine whether your organization will adeptly make the shift to the people-centric workplace that is the gold standard of the future of work. The criteria for the “right people” in this case strongly focuses on leaders who are able to model and encourage personal growth for themselves and those around them. This may include removing limiting beliefs, goal and dream setting practices, learning & development rhythms, and other business and personal coaching strategies. The important piece here is the willingness to prioritize and invest in personal growth and by doing so establish a growth culture mindset among the broader team. For established companies, it is also essential to have leaders that are experienced in change management to smooth the edges of what will be a transformative transition for the business and all employees.
Centering “people” as the focus of an HR professional’s day job can span the entire spectrum from foreign and uncomfortable, to obvious and old hat. But the unavoidable truth remains that the successful organizations of tomorrow all have one thing in common: the humans that make the business run are happy, healthy, engaged, and not planning on leaving the organization anytime soon. The sooner a company can make their people their priority, in practice rather than in word alone, the better the probability of financial sustainability and success in the long run.
Questions about this article? I’d love to hear from you!