#SHRM18 was only my second annual conference, but it was no surprise that I came home once more with a brain overflowing with new ideas and perspectives. Upon my adventure home, I sat at Gate L7 in O’Hare International Airport and struggled to pry my thoughts away from the stream of HR-consciousness buzzing in my brain. This year’s conference theme was “Expanding Your World” and couldn’t have been more accurately descriptive of my own experience.
As with so many, I too “fell” into HR and after beginning to understand it as a way to help people succeed while supporting your organization, I fell harder in love with this profession. Even as a newbie to the HR arena, I championed the field as a way to help - being a resource to our employees, providing wise counsel and guidance to our organizations, or ensuring compliance and regulations are satisfied, etc. After #SHRM18, I’m changing my own perspectives on how HR helps on individualized levels - I’m going global. Beyond helping people, organizations, or even industries: after #SHRM18, I believe HR can help change the world.
Now before you get going to the next blog - I can see that questioning arched eyebrow from here - stay with me. In the age of the #MeToo movement, almost unbelievable atrocities ripping apart families, and a political climate that has a population more divided then ever, we desperately need change. Is it so crazy to think that HR professionals can be the ripple effect to start the tidal wave we need?
Ask More Questions
During one of the keynote sessions featuring Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines dove into the different things employers can do that impact our employees well-being beyond the workplace and throughout their entire lives. Instead of taking a stereotypical corporate stance of leaving baggage at the door, Munoz implored a full crowd of HR professionals to “take the time to understand the human condition that drives engagement”. Understanding means more than making assumptions about departmental issues or asking someone “How ya doin’?” each morning. It means taking the time to have a conversation with a grumpy employee who can’t get along with their manager to determine if there is more going wrong in their relationship than what we can see on the surface. If we never ask the hard questions, we’ll never genuinely understand the struggles of our workforce and what we can do to help.
As a “young(ish) professional”, I’ve struggled to find security and confidence in my voice. Whether that’s questioning a decision from senior leadership that feels unethical or being brave enough to share my thoughts with the Twitter-sphere, for some of us, making our minds known can feel like teetering on the edge of a cliff. One of the main questions that sticks in my mind was from Adam Grant, best-selling author, organizational psychologist, professor at the Wharton School for Business, and all-around amazing human: “How can we create cultures where people are encouraged to speak out?” Beyond the creating that culture, how do WE speak out? With the curtains being pulled back in the entertainment industry, many ask “where was HR?”. We were there, folks. We just need to make ourselves truly, genuinely heard and listen to those gut feelings when something doesn’t appear to be right.
Stand in the Uncomfortable
“[The HR] profession is so important, because we can systematically find these biases, systematically acknowledge them, and systematically change them.” - Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.
See? Even an innovative and brilliant leader like Sheryl believes HR has the power to truly create change! Moving against the tide is scary. Change is hard, and during the process, can be painful - but if we don’t get comfortable with discomfort, change cannot happen. We can do it - I’ve seen it happen! The evening of writing this, I saw Tweets swooping around discussing the use of the #HRTribe hashtag.
#HRTribe is a hashtag I’ve used myself and thought to be innocuous and inclusive of the diverse, wide-spread community of HR nerds like myself who are dedicated to the work we do. I don’t know the origins of the tag, but while likely the original intent was a positive, compassionate one, it inadvertently created exclusion, with references to who was “in” or “out”. Some who voiced concerns over the tag’s usage were swiftly informed their beliefs were, simply, wrong “because we meant well”.
The part of the exchange that was most meaningful to me, however, was when one individual offered to leave the conversation and multiple users - with opposing mindsets - encouraged her to stay. THIS. This is the action we need more of. Standing in the uncomfortable areas, talking with those who disagree with us, working through self-doubt or perceived awkwardness will help us have the conversations that lead to actions and spark actual change.
We’re beyond looking for a seat at the table. It’s time to make the table longer, invite *everyone* to sit with us, and have frank, and honestly, really difficult conversations that will be uncomfortable at best. It’s time to talk about executives abusing their authority and privilege. It’s time to talk about archaic biases and prejudices that become have a poisonous effect within our organizations and our global community. We are beyond overdue to start talking about ways to fix these pandemic issues that are holding us back. Over 20,000 individuals from the HR community showed up in Chicago, looking to learn, hoping to connect, and with a passion for the work we do - with countless more attending virtually and following along via Twitter, blogging, and social media. I dare you to imagine the kind of change that an entire profession can make. What can you do to keep the momentum for change and innovation moving forward all year long?