The Power of Community

I’m so thankful for social media. Twitter has opened my world to a whole network of HR pros that I am now in contact with outside of Twitter; I’ve got a great national network to go to for advice, opinions, ideas, and the occasional reality check. They make me a better professional, and I appreciate them all. #HRTRibe, you know who you are. Thanks!

Recently, I’ve had a couple of conversations with these great HR pros that got me to thinking. First, we talked about the recent rash of articles blaming HR for inaction in the wake of so many sexual harassment cases finally coming to light. Kelly Marinelli wrote this great blog about the HR community, and we all agreed that Kelly’s community is the community we know: professionals who wouldn’t sweep allegations under the rug, who work hard to create safe and inclusive spaces for all employees, who don’t bow to pressure from executives who only look at the bottom line.

Several days later, this same group of HR pros found ourselves sharing horror stories of bad practices we’ve had to clean up when new to an HR department. You know – I9’s files in employee files, paper files jumbling medical records with employment records (going back decades), written policies that didn’t line up with local laws, and lots of other less-than-best-practice things we’ve all seen.

This seeming dichotomy has been bothering me since these conversations happened. How is it that we can confidently state that our HR community if full of professionals and at the same time all have war stories of things we’ve had to clean up in our HR departments?

I have decided one main difference is the idea of HR professionals as opposed to people who ‘do HR’. I’m blown away by young professionals like Jazmine Wilkes, who is actively pursuing and sharing HR knowledge as she grows her career.  That is not how I got my start. Like many, I ‘fell’ into HR. It’s common for an organization that doesn’t realize HR is a profession to simply task a likely staff member with HR duties. As they get more and more involved in HR, many of us realize that we don’t know enough to do it right, and pursue advanced education, certification, or start attending workshops and seminars to build our HR knowledge. We become HR pros.

But at the beginning of their journey, many of us practice HR without sufficient knowledge. I think about some of the things I did as an HR newbie and I cringe. I did things that seemed like common sense at the time, and later learned that they were far from best practice. I was involved in HR for several years before I realized that different localities had different employment laws!

What happens when someone falls into HR and they never get that ‘a ha’ moment and realize they need formal training? What happens when they work for an organization that isn’t concerned about HR doing it right – good enough is good enough for them? I believe it’s possible to make an entire career of HR without ever really knowing that you aren’t qualified. Hear me – I am not disparaging these HR folks who don’t know. They fell into a job. They are getting positive feedback from their employer. So far, nothing they’ve done has escalated to legal trouble for their organization, and they have no idea that the potential for legal trouble is there.

So what do we, the HR professionals who have training and knowledge, do for our profession? First, I think we need to be more gentle towards those in HR who don’t know. Let’s seek them out and welcome them into our community. Let’s not blast them for filing the I9’s correctly – let’s give them some context on why proper care of I9’s is important, and share best practices and resources. The HR community we know is not a clique – we need to actively seek out HR folks out there who need that community in their lives.

Beyond that, though, we need to change the narrative. Companies need to know why HR is an important profession, not just for legal compliance, but all the strategic value add that we bring to the table. In the wake of so many scandals, let’s shift the conversation from ‘where was HR?’ to ‘this is why you need HR as a partner, not an afterthought’. We know that good HR can do great things. Let’s make sure the world knows that, too.

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Engagement isn’t just for employees

What do you think of when you hear the word engagement? If you are not in HR, you might think of two people planning to marry. But if you’re in HR, you more likely thought about how invested or involved employees are at work. We know that an engaged workforce is more productive, has better retention, and leads to better business outcomes.

I was at the SHRM Volunteer Leaders Summit a couple of weeks ago, and in one mega chapter session we talked about problems facing our chapters, and everything boiled down to engagement. How can we keep our members engaged? How can we keep our board engaged? How can we keep our volunteers engaged? HR talks about engagement a lot.

All of this engagement has really started me to wonder – how engaged are we? While we work to engage our employees, our local chapter members, even our local chapter boards, do we stay engaged ourselves? I’ve talked in other posts about the importance of remembering that we are employees, too. But I don’t just mean our engagement as an employee. How engaged are we to our profession?

I checked the dictionary to get more insight into what engagement really means, and what struck me were the antonyms: boredom and distraction. Are you bored with HR? Are you so distracted with the pressures of doing HR everyday that you’ve lost your engagement with the profession? It’s time to step it up and reengage. How can we do that?

For some of us, that means stepping up to the plate into leadership, whether in our local chapter, national SHRM, or elsewhere. Maybe it means becoming a mentor or finding a mentor.

For others, it’s time to plan to attend some conferences or trainings. Or maybe 2018 is the year you earn your certification. Sometimes, professional engagement means becoming a leader at work. Own your subject matter expertise and don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, be disruptive. Find ways to be a change leader in your organization.

For every HR pro, being engaged means staying current in the profession. Whether its attending conferences, reading blogs, books and articles, or checking out the myriad resources that SHRM has to offer, be committed to knowing what’s going on in the HR world. Know the laws that affect your work. Know the trends and best practices of your profession. You owe it to the employees you serve, but more than that, you owe it to yourself to be the most engaged HR professional you can be.

2017 is winding down, and this is the time we start to think about New Years resolutions. May I challenge you to up your engagement in 2018? Engaged people are more productive and more satisfied. What commitment will you make toward your professional engagement in the new year?