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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