Human resources were always a focus of my work, yet it was not until joining Intel that I was able to experience the power of aligning people and business strategies. Seeing the combination of ground-breaking technology created, manufactured, and distributed globally was the ultimate catalyst for what has become the focus on my work. Creating people systems offers the organization an opportunity to grow through and with its people, while engaging a community of stakeholders. For me, seeing people learn how to be their best, grow into a role, or perform at unexpected levels of excellence is what has me jumping out of bed to race to work each day.
I have long held the perspective that HR is a two-sided coin. On the one-side, we are chartered to serve as the advocates for employees, gathering their input, watching out for their best interests, while providing opportunities for each to bring their best. On the other side of the coin, we are equally chartered to engage in and protect the interests of the business. Without a thriving business, our ability to serve employees can be severely gated. Do we have to make difficult choices at times, with business interests taking precedence over people? Yes, as the future of the enterprise must be our primary objective.
When friends and colleagues ask about human resources as a profession, I make certain to emphasize what I believe are the essential qualities of a successful people leader:
- Courage: In HR, we are faced with tough decisions almost daily. We must be prepared to align with and support the organization’s values, mission, and objectives, while at the same time advocating for employees. There are often times when the primary needs of one seems to crush the other, yet we must be prepared to make tough calls.
- Ability to listen intentionally: Listening is a necessary skill for all leaders, however, in human resources, if you’re not listening, you’re not learning. I believe we must listen, learn, and then act. Listening is essential in grappling with people issues. It is truly the only way to really get to the heart of any contentious matter.
- Strong back, warm heart: Dr. Brene Brown author of Braving the Wilderness and Dare to Lead, describes this quality as including “strong backs, soft fronts, and wild hearts”. HR leaders must possess compassion (having a heart), and conviction to maintain compliance, equity, and fairness (the strong backbone). Yes, we are usually charged with ensuring appropriate compliance with the myriad of regulations that govern our work and that takes the ability to say no, even when it’s unpopular. People have to deal with life’s many ups and downs, and it’s important, to remember that sometimes, we need to find a way to say yes when individual situations call for it.
- Great communicator: The subject matter we call HR is complex. We need to be able to communicate to employees with different cultural views, educational levels, and job types. We talk to front-line workers, and our peers in the C-suite with regularity. The ability to convey complex material simply to any given audience is essential.
- Business acumen: A mentor once advised me to learn to “follow the money”. What he meant was to understand how the business makes, spends, and invests cash. I describe myself as a businessperson specialising in people. In whatever industry I work, I devote time and effort to learning about market dynamics and the forces that surround our company.
If someone says, “oh, I love to work with people”, or “I like to train people”, I encourage them to look into learning (an essential function within the overall HR functional array) or even become a coach. The people side of the business requires an aptitude for business savviness, data analytics, conflict resolution, ability to maintain objectivity, along with the subject matter expertise. “Just” being a people person, won’t provide you with the grit, grind, and guts it takes to lead human resources.
The global pandemic accelerated movements we began to experience earlier in the 2010 decade. Here are the things we are grappling with today as human resource professionals:
- The Great Resignation: Data suggests that nearly one out of every 2-3 three employees are looking to leave their role in the near term. Growing a business out of the pandemic slump, backfilling vacant positions, or even creating businesses have been made so much more complex because of the numbers of employees leaving their roles. In August alone, nearly 5,000,000 workers resigned. This level of employee “churn” is exceedingly costly, time-consuming, without a guarantee of success complicates organizational goal fulfilment.
- Wage demands & rising salaries: Workers are pressing for living wages. Even the move to elevate the minimum wage to $15 per hour won’t position many to actually earn a living wage. Exacerbated by
the churn, companies are finding that they need to compete with international firms in terms of wages,
benefits, and flexibility. It simply is more expensive to attract and retain talent.
- Employees seeking purpose and meaning in their jobs: Employees report they want their work to have meaning and purpose. Companies, medical care facilities, even educational institutions are struggling to define purpose and mission that attracts the much-needed talent. This level of connection is based in one’s culture and must be demonstrable, observable, even felt. The time when we could post values in the lobby of headquarters and consider the exercise done, have long passed.
- Demands for growth, development, and promotions: One of the top five expectations for employees is their personal learning and skill development. They want to learn, to earn, to ready themselves for jobs that matter. Training, development, and experiences are no longer nice to have; they are now table stakes.
My objective is to enable people to become and bring their best. My work matters to individuals, their teams, and employers, and key stakeholders counting on each other to accomplish their shared objectives. Business is global, must be cooperative, and collaborative and human resources plays a monumental role in making that a reality.
Fair warning, HR can be hard work. That is why it’s really important to ensure you’re investing in adequate self-care. Exercise is the key for me, along with a high-quality night’s sleep. Self-care (diet, exercise, sleep) are the essential elements for ensuring I can run hard each and every day. And the quality time spent with family and our animals is the foundation of why I do what I do. HR practitioners have been stretched, stressed, and strained to the point of exhaustion the past two years . I see many of my colleague suffering from burnout – simply because the pressure just hasn’t lifted in what is now nearly two years.”
Parrish Partners was created to embrace both sides of the HR “coin”. We work with our clients to craft strategy, undertake transformations, or conduct merger and acquisition due diligence along with a keen sense of what is needed on the human capital side. We live the mantra that the business depends on people, and the employees enable the business.
Our services, especially in strategic planning, M&A, change management, coaching, and training imbue these key principles. We specialize in leading transformations with a world-class team, with long track records of success. Since I joined the team in 2014, the work has enabled me to meet a wonderful array of people, grow my skills, as well as serve many.
Those who have worked with me, know I close each meeting, each day with the following: Remember, learn something new each day and you’ll always be a competitive force. I also encourage us all to be ready to pass the baton – to whoever comes after us. Life is a remarkable equivalent to a four by four-hundred-meter relay. Go as fast as you can and be ready to pass the baton securely, knowing the race can only be won together.