I used to attend conferences and leave refreshed and energetic. There was fellowship, sharing of ideas and strategies, and optimism. I’d return to my workplace (and reality) with presentation slides, pamphlets and business cards ready to change the world, only to sit at my desk and think to myself, “That stuff will never work here.” We just don’t realize how many of our professionals leave feeling the same way, and it’s these enlightened yet discouraged practitioners that attend one or two sessions and never return, not being able to justify the investment to their employers.
Because all industries have different needs and HR means different things to different companies, blanket philosophies and general HR “How To’s” miss so many of our colleagues where they are, leaving them to fend for themselves in their space. Talk of shifts and access make great sound bites, but application in some settings are stifled or shut down before they begin because of how our organizations are structured, their shear size, lack of advocates or where and how their organization spend their money.
A majority of our HR colleagues are fighting what seem to be loosing battles, with ideas for change and progress being shot out of the sky by skud-like bureaucracies and old-school thinking that leave them contemplating if the battles are even worth the scars. They want to treat employees as if they are more than numbers, more than personnel action forms, but it’s more frequent than not that their people decisions must be based on spreadsheets as opposed to individual’s strengths, weaknesses and potential. Many practitioners’ routines are more similar to that of actuaries and paper pushers than that of people officers…and it wears on them.
It’s hard to preach engagement when they themselves aren’t engaged. How does one encourage the masses when they are worn out and beat down by a system that doesn’t appreciate their skills and knowledge? At what point does the practitioner wave the white flag and accept that until the current leadership dies off or retires that the status quo will remain in tact?
One Step at a Time HR
Like many that came before us, we must realize that we may not see the fruits of what we are fighting for. I read and hear stories of how my ancestors fought and scraped to ensure that those that came after them would have opportunities. Because of their sacrifices, I’m able to do what I do now. I have resources at my disposal that they never could have imagined. They were encouraged by the fact that their legacy would be greater than their current reality. They fought on because the foundation they laid would result in change and fairness.
That’s where our hope lies…that our trenches will be someone else’s bridges…that our scars will be someone else’s victories…that our obstacles will be the next HR generation’s steppingstones…that everything we manage to put in place now will result in change and impact our organizations and the lives of those after us. Old ways of running businesses will die. Old ways of viewing human capital as mere numbers will fade away. Current processes will adapt to the times and the workforce. But the road must be paved now with our work, sweat, and tears.
The work of an HR practitioner is not always happy work. The bad days will outnumber the good. We will question our purpose and contemplate quitting…trust me, every night I tell myself that I’m not going back in there! We must fight on because there is no one else equipped to do what we do. We know people work, not just paperwork. We know and see the value in the humans behind those statistics and that they are really the reason we develop policy, fight for diversity and voice reason while others are working for their own self-interest. We do it for them, not to say we did it, not to flex our muscle, but to align our departments with the true mission and values of our organizations while working to maximize the potential of our greatest assets…our employees.
We are and must remain a self-engaged discipline, one that works without validation. We make due with what we are given and impact change from the bottom up, literally fighting uphill battles. Someone has to fight them. It might as well be us. We may not make it there with them, but we as a discipline will make it, and it’s in our knowing that that we must find the strength to keep fighting the good fight HR.