9 Lessons for Running a Great HR Function

This weekend I was doing some spring cleaning. Well, summer cleaning, since I missed the spring season. Anyway, one of the things I found was a box of items I used to keep on my whiteboard next to my desk as reminders of important aspects of HR. These shaped the way I practiced HR and ran my department on a daily basis. I thought it would be fun to share the notes here to help give you an idea of what kind of HR I practiced.

running great hr department

1: Your Company Values

Your values statement should be the most tattered piece of paper in your organization.

Most companies pick out a few values as part of a management exercise or checklist and then forget about them. Want to hire great people that align with your mission? Use your values statement every day to keep measuring your candidates and employees to make sure they are on target.

2: Communication Breakdown

The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, dribble, and misrepresentation.

I once had a great group of employees that worked at a remote site. Whenever we/I failed to communicate with them, rumors and other junk started getting stirred up. This quote was my reminder to always, always, always be communicating to keep those lines open and to keep the culture from devolving into chaos.

3: Understand Your Key Issues

At one point our organization doubled in size overnight, but those additional employees had issues and challenges since they came from a previous employer and weren’t hired by us directly. I made it my mission to find out their challenges to try and make them right, so after talking with all forty of them I came away with these key issues that I put on my board and read at least once a day:

  • We don’t have any process/consistency in our work
  • We need growth opportunities
  • We don’t have enough manpower or tools
  • There’s too much negativity here
  • We never get any communications from our leaders
  • We have low performers that need to go

4: We’re Not Target

One of my earliest jobs was working at a nonprofit organization that hired more than a hundred people every year. At one point I banded together with one of the other HR team members and we approached our leadership about putting in an applicant tracking system to allow us to be more efficient and compliant since the paper applications were often lost or not filled out properly. The response from one of the other members of the team?

We can’t do something like that, it’s too much work. We’re not Target, you know.

Sigh. The point is that we could have put this in place, because the ATS we found was completely free. Don’t let someone else’s idea of what is acceptable performance limit your own pursuit of greatness. Just because they’re okay with mediocrity doesn’t mean it’s the threshold for success.

5: Always Be Improving

On a scale from 1-5, how welcome did you feel on your first day? If not a 5, what could have made it a 5?

This was my reminder that in every practice, whether it was onboarding and orientation, recruiting, or something else, we always need to be seeking feedback and attempting to improve the service we’re delivering.

6: Team Performance

Don’t expect the team to exceed customer expectations if the manager doesn’t exceed the team’s expectations.

As a company keenly focused on customer service (aren’t we all?) I was always reminding managers of the role they played in the relationship between their workforce and the customers we served every day. It was also my reminder that this trickles down, so it put some level of pressure on me and the rest of the executive team to deliver as well.

7: Appreciation Matters

I kept a note from the greatest boss I ever had, Christine, as a reminder that whether it was my own employee or someone else in the organization, I had a responsibility to recognize them for their efforts as often as I could. When was the last time you gave someone a note, even a post-it with a short, specific thank you?

8: Informal Employee Relations

Every employee that gets into performance issues wants to try to talk their way out of it. It’s common, and it’s useless. My response?

You can’t talk yourself out of what you behaved yourself into.

This is accountability. This is ownership. Your own behaviors can take you up or down, and then you have to live with it. I can coach you, but I can’t make you choose to do the right thing. And talk? It’s not going to solve the problem.

9: HR Rockstar Advice

Getting started in HR, one of my “mentors” or influences was Chris Ferdinandi of Renegade HR. He had a list of key areas where HR needed to improve, and it wasn’t focused on compliance or administration. Here is the short list that continuously guided me on a daily basis:

  1. Don’t just motivate. Inspire.
  2. Employees are people (not resources).
  3. Embrace innovation and learning.
  4. Work is something you do (not somewhere you go).
  5. Be open. Be honest. Be transparent.
  6. Use your employees as guinea pigs (and other data methods).

If we just stuck with these six as ways to manage our day to day activities, most of us would turn out okay!

I hope these nine items give you an idea of what mattered most to me. Whether it was keeping communication top of mind or making sure that I gave credit where it was due, there were some great reminders to keep me on track. What’s on your board or desk? What keeps you on track? I’d love to see you share it here.

9 thoughts on “9 Lessons for Running a Great HR Function

  1. Amo Panesar

    A great HR system is needed as well! A user friendly, easily accessible tool with great reporting. Employees are happy, Managers are happy and even higher ups are happy. Everybody’s happy!

  2. Addison Jenning

    Nice morning read! You have emphasized exactly what it is important when you are an HR Employee/Manager; however, I would also add some other lessons any HR should learn in order for them to succeed.
    1. Be Organized
    2. Learn Multitasking – you’ll definitely need it
    3. Learn Crisis Management and Problem Solving
    4. Be Honest, Modest and Discrete
    5. Have a Vision and Inspire Others

    I also think these lessons should be learned – I learned them the hard way; it helped a lot, but if they can make others’ lives easier.. why not?
    Thank you for this helpful article!

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  5. lauren

    As l read, all l was saying was”woow” “woow”. It a good piece and l can not help but share. Thank you!

  6. Susan Kaplan

    Very insightul. We also need emplathy in all we do and be well organized.

    I really enjoyed reading this!

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