The other day I stumbled onto a post on LinkedIn that seems to be making its way around various HR circles. After reading the article I figured I’d weigh in on its main argument for the need for boldness in HR. It’s not that I disagree with being bold or that I think being bold is a bad idea, it’s just that being bold is a small piece of what HR practitioners really need to be. Sure, HR needs to be risk takers, gutsy, and all of those other exciting words that make your heart pump faster. But at the end of the day, what HR really needs to be is better businessmen and businesswomen.
HR has relied on scare tactics, fear, and “compliance” to push their agenda for too long. Yes the DOL, EEOC, and all of those other spooky government agencies are huge pains in the ass, but they’re a necessary evil. And to be honest, many business leaders look at HR as a necessary evil too. So stop approaching the HR function in a vacuum; HR is an important component of a business but at the end of the day it exists for the same two reasons that every job in a company exists: Increase revenue and decrease expenses. Forget that and you should just pack your shit up, leave the office, and go home for the rest of the month (or year).
My advice for those of you who are currently in HR or who plan on going into HR is to sear the following ideas into your brain:
1. Boldness in Finance:
You have to do this in our current business environment. The minute that we start caring more about being loud and gutsy than about earnings and revenue is the minute that we’ll change this heading to Boldness in HR. But don’t hold your breath. Instead, get a firm grasp of income and expenses. know how to interpret and unpack financial statements, and understand the critical impact that revenue has on a business. Use your problem-solving brain to learn a little more about A/P, A/R, forecasting, budgeting, and taxes. Hell, payroll tax should be near and dear to your heart if you plan on being in HR for the long haul.
2. Salespeople are Weirdos:
Weird like a fox. You may think of salespeople as being flashy, arrogant, fake, or phony. It’s the department that spends money like water, dresses way too nice, and will waterboard their own mother for an opportunity to bump their commission check up by $50. The bottom line is that these folks bring in the dollars that pay everyone’s salary, including yours. Sales isn’t easy, and while these employees have greater earning potential than other non-sales employees, they can also be around one day and gone the next. HR needs to learn how to embrace the sales culture and figure out how to use it to their company’s advantage. That’s a step towards business savvy AND boldness in HR.
3. IT is Crucial:
I’m not talking about the IT guy down the hall that sets up your computer and spills coffee on your keyboard while he’s deleting Spotify from your machine. I’m talking about Data and Information professionals who can read, write, and understand code. Valuable IT employees grasp the notion of how software and hardware interact with one another, and you should too. Data is a critical component of business these days. Gathering data, creating data, storing data, securing data, and disseminating data is the lifeblood of business. As more IT efforts head to the cloud and SaaS platforms, the people who manage these programs and areas will become essential to business (I’m looking in the direction of DevOps and TechOps). Once you’re able to talk intelligibly with these employees you’ll be that much better of an HR professional, and you’ll be respected a heck of a lot more.
4. Lawyers are Assholes:
For the most part this is true. I know this because I work with a lawyer almost everyday. He also gave me permission to write this sub-topic, but he reminded me that his permission wasn’t technically legal advice. Rather than going too far down this rabbit hole let’s just all agree that the good Doctors of “Jurisprudence” protect you and your company, and in turn that protects everyones paychecks. Also, it’s very important to recognize that you, as an HR professional, are not a lawyer. So there’s some boldness in HR. There are positives and negatives to this, but never confuse providing FMLA information to an employee as giving legal advice.
5. Understand Your Business:
I don’t care if you work for a startup, a public company, a non-profit, or a government contractor. You absolutely must know and understand how your company makes money, how they spend money, and what goes on in between these two points. You can’t be a good HR professional, a good co-worker, or a good employee if you don’t understand how and what real success and failure looks like. Real success and failure is defined by leadership, and more often than not it comes in the forms of numbers. So as they say in rap songs, if you don’t know you better ask somebody.
When you want to know how your HR job affects the big picture, here’s an idea: go ask your boss about what you can personally do to have an impact on the top line and the bottom line. Then GO DO IT. If your boss doesn’t have an answer for you, then go ask his or her boss. Ambition goes a long way in this world. And the next time you’re feeling bold, take a deep breath, open your web browser, and download a good book from Amazon.