HR Hired Before Other Execs - Is This a Fad or Fundamental?

May 23, 2017

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Over the years I’ve seen HR practices come and go.  Remember the Zappo’s “Holacracy”?  Sounded great…but didn’t stick. This, my friends, is what we would call a fad.  So, in that vein, a friend of mine forwarded me a New York Times Article titled: Focusing On HR Before Ping Pong Tables. The article describes a shift in the startup world where HR Leaders are amongst the first to be hired rather than the last.  

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I read this and thought, “It’s about time. The millennials are getting this RIGHT!”  Yes, I said the millennials.  Perhaps exposure to corporate talent failures have gotten through the interwebs (cough…Uber) combined with millennials’ innate desire to “do what is right socially” is shifting the perception of what HR’s true value proposition is.    

Many of us have witnessed the HR-Afterthought Effect. Here is the typical progression of the HR function at ACME Corporation:

  • Phase I:  The leaders themselves are HR.  (which means there is no HR)
  • Phase II: A payroll clerk is hired, cause, you need to get paid, right? The payroll clerk processes the new hire paperwork because, you need that to get paid as well.
  • Phase III:  A receptionist is hired.
  • Phase IV:  As the company grows, the payroll clerk gets sick of doing admin work, complains loudly to his/her boss, and voila – the receptionist is handed the task of processing the new hire paperwork.  

This company has just given birth to their new infant HR department. Problem is, the receptionist doesn’t know it (that’s kind of big), the HR foundation is compliance-driven, and there is likely no real interaction between the people and the leaders with this setup.  I feel sorry for this receptionist for she/he doesn’t know what is about to hit her/him.  

So, when you read about the companies in the New York Times article, you want to click your heels.  Question is - will this stick?

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Is this a fad or a true new fundamental?

For this to avoid being the next fad or “something only startups do,” here is what must happen:

    • Strategy trumps admin.Putting an HR rep in place early to handle paperwork is very different than hiring an HR leader who can help founders shape “how things must work around here” to be successful. This is the start of creating your culture.  
    • Companies must define exactly what HR is from the start.I mean, what is HR?  Is it benefits? Recruiting? Coaching? It must be spelled out. The companies that are changing the game are hiring HR pros who are connectors, have high emotional IQ, have some level of empathy, and who can build TRUST with employees. If trust is built, they can connect the dots with their leader-peers regarding what practices work best to a) keep team members engaged and b) produce results.  This doesn’t mean all the HR pros are squishy people-people.  They mustconnect the dots to business outcomes.
    • Understand the new successful organizational model.The new organizational model is employee-centric vs. the old “manager” centric model.  Your HR pro must know the difference. They also need to have the courage to tell managers that it isn’t all about them anymore.
    • HR Must Partner with Marketing.Once HR has helped identify and create an employee-centric culture (or whatever culture drives your success), you need to promote it.  Promoting these differentiators internally and externally helps your brand, attracts great employees, and excites current team members.  
    • Allow your HR Leader to be a central part of hiring other executives to the team.This establishes the HR pro as a true partner and leader in the organization.  

So, the jury is still out on whether this will be a “Fad or Fundamental.” However, I have hope.  Join me at the ClearCompany Talent Success Conference this Fall, and we’ll unveil the result!

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Dawn Hrdlica-Burke
Dawn Hrdlica-Burke
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Dawn Hrdlica-Burke is the VP of People for Daxko, a leading software provider for member-based health and wellness centers nationwide. Dawn and her team are responsible for finding great talent, developing team members, and preserving Daxko’s culture - a culture recognized in Fortune Magazine as one of the “50 Best Small and Medium Workplaces.” Recognized as a Top HR Innovator, she is also a speaker, creator of DawnHBurke.com, and a contributor to a variety of national blogs including Fistful Of Talent.

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