What is HR Thirsty For?

I attended a HR luncheon not too long ago. I arrived early and found no one there I knew. Instead of going into introvert mode, I decided to sit down at a table, join the conversation and try to make some new connections. Here’s what I walked in on …

“It’s been over a year of the same thing now. I keep telling them what they need to do to make things better around here. They don’t want to listen to me. I don’t feel like they value my input at all.”

“I totally understand what you mean. It’s the same at my job. I’m not even invited to their meetings anymore. They can’t handle the truth about what needs to happen to fix the mess they’ve made.”

I just sat there, feeling out of place and uncomfortable and praying they wouldn’t ask me to join the conversation.

They didn’t. And they didn’t introduce themselves either. They just kept talking about how horrible it was their companies wouldn’t give HR the attention and opportunity it deserved.

One might say they sounded really … thirsty!!

Yep. I’m using urban slang to describe a HR phenomenon. Again …Don’t judge. Keep reading.

The urban dictionary defines thirsty as “eager to get attention; to crave spotlight; desperate to be chosen”

Sound familiar? It should … In many organizations, HR feels unheard, undervalued and marginalized in their role. Like the people at that luncheon table, lots of HR professionals go to work every day seeking the attention of senior management, the spotlight of business and are desperate to be chosen to lead organizational change.

I’m not going to go into the reasons why HR should be involved in the strategic planning of business. It is well documented that organizations who utilize HR in a strategic capacity are more financially successful and maintain a more positive reputation and healthier working environment than those who marginalize HR to traditional, administrative functions.

What I am going to go into is what HR should stop doing that makes them look thirsty.

  • Stop openly criticizing the decision-makers … Just because you aren’t part of the discussions doesn’t mean you get to nit-pick all the ideas and efforts. Give the benefit of the doubt, even if the analysis missed some stuff. Besides, it only leads to you being more left out of the team.
  • Stop threatening litigation … Telling the organization not to do something that’s good for progress because there’s an off-chance they might get sued is not helpful. Mitigating and defending the company’s decisions is part of your job — so do it! Besides, it only makes it look like you’re afraid to fight.
  • Stop saying people are going to be unhappy and quit … Turnover is necessary and not always a bad thing. There’s a huge difference between normal and the truly negative trends. Make sure you know and speak about the difference. Besides, it only makes it look like you’re the one who is unhappy.

Instead, try doing more of the stuff like this:

Start showing enthusiasm for proposed changes. Be excited for the opportunity that a new project brings and seek partnerships across functions and departments to make it successful.

Start proposing the changes you want to see. Not suggesting or guilting or badgering — but legitimately proposing. Provide full, comprehensive analysis and recommendations for the improvements you believe in.

HR must open its mouth to say something other than “no” and “that won’t work’. We must talk about what’s possible and how we are going to get it done.

Because, while HR is often waiting on the organization to listen, the organization is waiting on HR to talk … Holla back!


Living the Fast Food Worker Protests

Five years ago, I separated from my husband and the father of my children after years in a tumultuous relationship. I accepted a promotion which required me to relocate to NC shortly after we split. Although the job paid a good salary, it was difficult for me to make ends meet as a single mom with 2 children under 5 years old. Our split was contentious and it would take months for child support arrangements to be put in place — and even longer for me to receive payments. I made too much money for assistance of any kind. I relied on friends and family to help me. Some, I was able to pay back; others, I never did and I thank God that they still love me anyway. I struggled for over a year, while working to finish my Master’s degree … and for some time after that, “tight” wasn’t a strong enough word to describe my budget.

I never once blamed my employer or demanded a raise. When review time came, I pushed hard for the maximum increase and I had all the documentation to back it up. But I didn’t expect anything from them. And I wasn’t mad at my owners for making a profit while I experienced personal struggle.

So as media coverage and protest participation surrounding the Fast Food Workers gained momentum this summer, I felt … some kind of way about it.

On the one hand, I felt I could relate to their struggle after my own experiences. I couldn’t imagine having to support my family on minimum wage for an extended period. I couldn’t imagine working someplace who never awarded pay increases.

On the other hand, demanding a pay increase just based on personal need isn’t acceptable to me, either personally or professionally. My bills are not my company’s business or concern. If the demands of my life require me to earn more, it is my responsibility to figure out how to make that happen. It will not be easy or fun. I felt all kinds of guilt, embarrassment, shame and depression during my struggle. But I decided I wouldn’t let myself stay in that place and I did what I had to do to make it through and make it better. I believe the same power lies in each of us — especially when we align ourselves with uplifting things and people.

If I had a 3rd hand, I would use it to challenge the assumption that these fast food restaurants are swimming in money. It’s not true. Most of these restaurants are independently owned franchises and they are NOT making record profits, yo! And I know because I’ve spent almost 9 years working for retail franchisees. The money for these franchisees to pay $15/hour as minimum wage just isn’t there — unless we all want to pay $20+ for our “value meals.”

Yet I’m not OK with leaving people to struggle. The disparity of wealth in America and all the problems resulting from it are real. Especially for women and people of color. People I know. People I love. People who look like me.

I’m proud that, while my organization saw a few protests and protestors, none of our employees walked out, called out or joined the fray. I think it speaks to our commitment to providing fair wages, good benefits and a path for promotion to our long-term employees. I think it speaks to good HR philosophy, strategy and execution.

That makes the struggle worth it … even though it’s probably not over. For the workers, the owners, the industry or for me.

Should HR Be More Like “The Closer” or “Major Crimes”?

This week’s post are looking at HR lessons from tv police drama “The Closer.”

Set in Los Angeles, the show follows the “Priority Homicide” division led by Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson as they investigate and solve high-profile homicide cases. Because of her ability to get confessions resulting in convictions, Brenda is known as “a closer.”

In the series finale last week, Brenda resigned her position with the LAPD. The division was renamed “Major Crimes” and placed under the command of Captain Sharon Raydor, former head of the Force Investigation Division responsible for ensuring procedures are followed and investigating misconduct allegations against police officers.

While “The Closer” was focused on confessions, “Major Crimes” is all about convictions. The goal is to quickly gather enough evidence to determine who committed the crime and leverage that information to reach a plea bargain.

So which approach is better?? Should HR be more like “The Closer” or like “Major Crimes”???

The answer … I think … is Major Crimes.

There will never be another like Brenda Leigh Johnson. Her skills at solving cases and obtaining confessions are unmatched. And when you have someone like that on the team and/or in charge of the team, it makes sense to utilize those strengths. However, that approach can be time-consuming and expensive. It takes hours, days and weeks of investigating to obtain one confession — followed by months and years to bring the case to trial and convict the perpetrator. When resources are at a premium, it makes a lot of sense to identify a suspect and reach an agreement that includes significant jail time so that police and prosecutors alike can move on to the next issue.

When issues come up in HR, it is rare that we find a “smoking gun” or obtain a “full confession” from anyone. Much more often, we gather data and, based on patterns, we identify the most likely and plausible explanation. And many times, there are layers and mitigating factors to the problems we face because of the interpersonal relationships and histories between the people and departments involved. The “major crimes” in our workplaces tend to be very, very complex issues that are not easy to unravel or solve without compromise, sacrifice and risk.

So without a lot of time or resources, it makes sense for us to take the course of action that causes the least disruption. We settle.

It sounds horrible to say — but it is our reality and our truth. And it is OK.

Settling doesn’t mean we compromise our principles or our integrity. It doesn’t mean we let people get away with craziness, foolishness or unlawfulness. The bad guys on Major Crimes still go to jail! They just don’t necessarily go with an air-tight confession on tape as apart of the evidence package … And in our workplaces, our bad guys are still held accountable for their actions. They are still disciplined when necessary — up to and including termination, when necessary. The difference is we don’t always have every issue documented with irrefutable, independent corroboration before we take action.

Our goal is to make employment decisions that will advance the goals of the business and withstand legal scrutiny. “Confessions” are nice but “convictions” are a must. We must be confident that our course of action is fair and reasonable based on the information we have. That’s what being an HR “Closer” is about.

So farewell Brenda Leigh Johnson and hello Captain Raydor! The Major Crimes way is here to stay.


Don’t miss the rest of “The Closer” series:

Taking HR From Ideal to Real

I used to share an office with the HR assistant and one of the production coordinators. It was super tiny for 3 people, our desks and the filing cabinets which housed the personnel and training records for 400+ employees.

During lunch one day, the HR assistant said she believed our files may be out of compliance after reading an article about recordkeeping.

I started to freak out! Had I missed some changes to the law?? Was I allowing things housed kept in files that could get us into trouble?!? And if I was, where was I going to find time to audit and correct 400+ employees!?! Where was I going to find space in our already tiny, crowded office???

I paused every other project I had going on and started researching. I check with my boss to see if he knew of any law changes. I checked online. I check with my other HR friends. I even called my mother.

I found nothing.

I asked the HR assistant to find and bring me the article. It was from some HR newsletter recommending all these “cutting-edge” ways to maintain records to better ensure employee privacy was kept.

Don’t get me wrong. The recommendations were great. But we didn’t have the need or the space to make those changes! And now, I was mad at myself for getting in a tizzy and wasting time on this.

Sadly, that wasn’t the first time that happened to me. But it would be the last!

HR often gets sent on wild-goose chases for new, cutting-edge ways to do stuff that there is really no need, time, budget or manpower to take on. Sometimes, we do it to ourselves after reading an article or book that tells us another way is better, faster and less risky way to do something.


Each organization is different. Different sized staff. Different sized office space. Different sized budgets and resources. Our responsibility is to stay legally compliant while maintaining confidentiality and privacy in our recordkeeping with the resources we have available.

We hurt ourselves and undermine our profession with unhealthy comparisons to others. Instead, we should focus on taking HR from ideal to real in a way we are proud of and that can withstand legal scrutiny.

That doesn’t mean ignoring advice or concerns. The legal landscape that impacts HR is always changing. It is hard to keep up! And it is always possible a new regulation has popped up requiring you to adjust your handling of things. So, when a compliance issue is brought to us, we should always give it due diligence to ensure we don’t miss anything major.

However, we shouldn’t just stop what is working or what we’re working on every time something new comes our way. HR has to evaluate proposed changes to determine if, why, when and how it will best fit into our plans. Unless the law requires it, we don’t have to make changes unless we want to and until we’re ready. This isn’t a luxury HR gets too often! Take advantage of this leeway to fully assess options and determine an action plan for the organization you serve. Then move from the ideal to the real at the pace that works best for you.

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