Messages Shouldn’t Require a “Read Between the Lines” Warning #HRFL13

Any time I have the opportunity to hear someone discuss their organization’s culture, brand, philosophies, and people, my interest always sparks. Last week afforded one of those opportunities when I was at HR Florida 2013 (#HRFL13) and Sheila Johnson, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist and Co-Founder of BET, discussed how human resources has impacted her means of guiding her businesses.

Sheila Johnson if you are not aware has a diverse background in that she has co-founded a television network, owned/managed sports teams, and is CEO of a hospitality group which manages a number of properties in the United States. And to add on to these accomplishments, she has produced several powerful independent films and spearheaded the funding efforts to get The Butler off the ground, produced, and out in theaters.

Now, reel back to HR Florida 2013; when Sheila came out on stage, she came out dancing and was excited to share her wisdom (I can’t say I have seen a general speaker do that 🙂 – her excitement got me excited).

I enjoyed hearing her experiences and perspective with HR from the beginning at BET to today with her hospitality group. Sheila shared that when BET started off, it was with five people, and admittedly, they stumbled in regards to people because there was not an “HR” person. However as BET evolved, HR as we know it today was referred to as personnel (80s), and unfortunately Sheila shared the same thought as many people did about personnel – paper pushers.

Today, her thought of HR is no longer of the dreaded paper pushers, but rather HR is the heartbeat of the organization. She went on to express she is closer to HR than any of her other executives, which makes even more sense when you are in the hospitality business. Your business is employing people to make guests happy.

Hearing a CEO who gets the makeup and success of a business is its employees  is refreshing to hear in today’s market, since much of what we hear unfortunately is just the bottom line. As Sheila puts it, “it is not just the value of the paycheck provided, it is how we treat people. We want people to succeed and we (hospitality business) believe in our employees”. Powerful statements, especially with the activities she explained were incorporated to really build people’s success.

But here is the question I walked away with, “Is what she stated happening everywhere, with every single employee? If every employee was asked, would there be a positive review?”

For the most part, I would say a majority of her employees would give positive reviews; however, keeping in reality, I know all organizations face disgruntled employees and doing a little research confirmed that indeed, Ms. Johnson’s organization has encountered unhappy employees. My point is not to downplay her message or the successes she has had, but rather demonstrate how our messages also have to be willing to discuss the good with the bad and keep “reading between the lines” to a minimum (i.e., meaning, assumption is applied you know there will be some unhappy people).

This is what makes HR and the organization “game changers”. This is what makes us better as a profession.

If we live in a world with rose colored glasses, we cannot make tomorrow better for ourselves, others in our life, and for the employees we serve. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of how statements can be interpreted. Even more so through assumption. Keep “reading between the lines” to a minimum and instead drive clear, genuine, thoughtful discussion, which shares innovation, successes, failures, and promotes people to want to achieve more!


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