What does it mean to be HR Positive? I spoke with two HR leaders who are blazing their way to a new perception of HR at their own organizations. Cecilia Clark, Senior HR Generalist at Schwan’s, supplements her HR career with a background in Finance, so she is an expert in connecting business and HR strategy to positively affect the bottom line. Chris Orozco, at Win-River Resort and Casino, turned Human Resources into Team Member Relations, which he currently leads. They are both official SHRM 2018 bloggers, and you can read more of their thoughts on Cici’s own HR blog, and Chris’ personal blog “Create: Life and Leadership by Design.”
Going from scary HR monster to a force for good
Chris Orozco didn’t have a day—not even a minute, he says—of HR experience when he was given the HR Manager job years ago. His fresh perspective, outside of the traditional HR viewpoint, was what Win-River needed.
His outside perspective allowed him to take a fresh look at all HR policies and activities. For each activity, he asked this question: “is that an accurate reflection of the relationship we want to have with our people?” He was driven by the need to move HR away from a paper-pushing operation that people only see when they’re in trouble. At Win-River, Orozco eventually rebranded HR as Team Member Relations.
When Orozco led a revamping of their employee handbook, he questioned why they still had an introductory period for new employees, during which they did not receive benefits. One of Win-River’s core values is trust, and Orozco knew this particular policy was not upholding that value. With an introductory period, they were communicating the message that Win-River didn’t yet trust their newest employees. Orozco wants new employees to know that their employer cares about their well-being, so now they extend benefits to new hires from day one.
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There are too many stories out there of how atrocious HR can be, says Orozco. “The perception of HR is not overly positive” because it’s perceived as the place where you get hired and fired, and that’s it. “You want to provide this vision for HR being a force for good.”
“You want to provide this vision for HR being a force for good.”
Cici Clark agrees. Employees have a hard time coming to HR for help, she says, because of that negative perception. She makes sure to get personal with employees and check in about their personal needs and their lives outside of work. That way she avoids being “the scary monster in the cave in the corner.”
Responsibilities pile up for anyone, and Clark says she’s spending 90 percent of her time recruiting right now, “but I at least walk out of my office and go eat lunch with people.”
When Clark gives tours to candidates at their hiring events, she doesn’t just become familiar with their skill sets to be able to match them to a job that fits. She also gives everyone what must be a truly exciting tour because she’s heard this feedback during her tours: “I feel like I’m at the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory!” Clark says she has to have fun with her job, because if “I’m bored, you’re bored too.” You have to be excited about your open jobs, says Clark.
Orozco wishes all HR leaders would work with senior leadership to identify where HR is contributing to an adversarial relationship between employee and employer. Together, HR and other leaders must identify the kind of relationship the organization wants with its employees. Then, they must communicate that vision across the organization, especially to managers. At Win-River, Orozco has led a reduction in turnover and their employee surveys show increasing levels of trust.
“It doesn’t have to be overly complicated,” he says, but once leaders decide on what their relationship with employees should be, your actions will speak louder than words.
Balancing business needs with championing employees
“Part of our work is mitigating risk, which involves protecting the company. But if you treat people good, then that risk is theoretically mitigated already.” Orozco’s has a question for HR leaders who are pressured to prioritize business needs at the expense of their people: “Do you really want to be there?”
Look at the data, he says, and prove that positive employee relations matters to the business. High turnover and low morale can demonstrate what negative employee relations can cost a business. He encourages his peers to show the positive financial impact if you were lower turnover and increase morale.
“What’s good for employees is good for the employer,” says Orozco.
Clark understands the balance between business and people needs. “My job is about helping the business grow. It’s about increasing productivity and profit.” At Schwan’s, they track how productive an individual is and where they see slack. Clark says it’s her job to ask employees how she can help them progress. Maybe they’re having trouble at home, she says, and she can provide resources to keep them motivated and productive. “So many factors impact productivity and how an employee feels. It’s my job to find out what it is that is keeping people from being productive and what I can do to make them productive.”
At the root of the problem is a lack of integrity
Orozco has been watching the #MeToo movement unfold and thinks it’s devasting. With such prevalent incidents of sexual harassment, he knows HR has a long way to go. “As long as employees see as HR as the folks who protect the company over their own interests, it’s never going to work.”
There needs to be generations of HR leadership involved in this movement and these conversations, and Orozco believes in keeping it simple. It starts with integrity. When he hears the news about harassment or bullying at work, he says it’s always because of a lack of integrity. “Every single person in HR is a leader, because a leader makes someone else better than they were.”
Empowering employees to see HR differently
Clark says she hears a lot of requests from employees to solve simple admin issues that, she says, “I know they can do on their own but they choose not to because the old HR did it for them.” She chooses to empower these employees to be proactive and learn new skills. The way that technology is disrupting manufacturing, Clark knows that her employees at Schwan’s must learn new tech skills that will serve them their whole careers. “HR is going into self-help so we can spend more time being real business partners and not spending 90% of our time doing admin work.”
“HR is going into self-help so we can spend more time being real business partners and not spending 90% of our time doing admin work.”
Clark thinks much of what makes a successful and positive HR leader comes down to personality. Employees don’t like to face conflict at work and won’t be willing to seek help from an HR manager who projects negativity. Orozco agrees. “These jobs are about people,” he says, and should help employees do their own jobs better. “Everything we do is about building relationships with people,” and HR leaders must have the emotional intelligence to manage their own and others’ emotions to help people traverse diverse situations.