Put the Human Back in Human Resources

It’s the question none of us ever want to hear…. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?  Well, fellow CHROs and human resources leaders, here you go.  If you want the good news first, you will be happy to hear that in Gallup’s most recent 2016 survey, employees are more satisfied overall than they were in the prior year.  If you are really digging for good news you will be elated to know that workers are 76% satisfied with the safety of their workplace, up from 70% the prior year.

But now for the bad news and a special call to action for human resources professionals.  Satisfaction is nice, but it really gets you nothing but smiling and complacent employees.  So while I might be satisfied with the safety of my workplace and my employer’s contribution to my 401k, I’m unlikely to give more discretionary effort unless I am involved in and enthusiastic about my work and my workplace.  Employees need to be more than satisfied. They need to be engaged.  If they are, they’ll be more likely to show up, less likely to leave, and they will contribute at a high level.

If this is the case, then, why are so many human resources organizations focused on the elements that increase worker satisfaction and not employee engagement?  Simply stated, it’s because increasing engagement is harder and requires us to work on the softer side of the equation.   And our executive stakeholders are often very dismissive of discussions about what we can do to tap into the best that our employees have to offer.

So what’s the answer?  I think it’s simply a call for us to Put the Human Back in Human Resources. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

The CHRO has to be the person who brings to light the human side of the equation in every case.  Let the sales and marketing team drive the top line plan, let your finance friends get deep in the numbers.  With so much focus on HR professionals being true business partners, I wonder if we have lost the uniqueness or the “secret sauce” of our profession.  We should indeed be knowledgeable and credible around the numbers and the business.   But we have to go deep and be the resident experts on the human dimension and ensure that we are heard and making a real difference on the human equation in our companies.

Leveraging your associate engagement data is a place to start.  And action planning at the organizational level can be helpful.  But employee engagement and retention of top talent is really all about the “N of 1”.  Employees are unique individuals.  In our desire to aggregate and make sense of things, we want to generalize and problem solve so that we can feel like we are making progress.

But true employee engagement comes from meeting each and every employee’s unique needs.  And our leaders are still the most important player in that human equation.  We need to encourage our leaders to make the time to get to know their employees on a personal level and equip them with tools that help them to tap into their employees’ passions and interests.  Leaders are under increasing demands for productivity and results.  Oftentimes they are getting messages from the organization that it’s only results that matter.  The human resources professional has to ensure that they understand that talent motivation and retention is more critical to their results and success than the points on the scoreboard today.  Let’s be bold and reassert our claim in our organizations as Human Resources Professionals.

Aileen Wilkins
HR Executive