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Closer to the Heart

“And the men who hold high places, must be the ones who start,
to mold a new reality, closer to the heart.” –Rush

One of the types of projects I get involved with in my career is HR needs assessments. These projects take a lot of different forms, and range from what is needed for a company’s first HR role to how the duties and responsibilities within a whole HR department should be delineated.

In the process of undertaking these types of assessments, I get to meet a lot of different HR folks. I’ve learned that HR professionals come from a wide variety of backgrounds, training and prior careers. Some are very good at what they do, and others less so. I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t from the perspective of effectiveness.

My view is that the HR function is critical to having an engaged and motivated workforce. There are many ways that an HR function can facilitate the development or reinforcement. In this type of environment, to make an exceedingly simplistic statement, it is mostly about providing a consistent, rational, user-friendly experience for the employee group. It should be a bit fun too (said with a dose of conservatism). To a certain extent, achieving this experience involves knowing when to have the HR function in the thick of it and when to maintain a professional distance from the employee group and the executive. The balance of this is never easy. We are sometimes expected to be the person holding the crystal ball, the enforcer, the explainer, the confidant, the sounding board, the facilitator, the fixer, the social committee, the cheerleader, the parent, and the leader—all at the same time.

I say it is tough creating the balance because our standards of professional practice in human resources inhibit us from acting in the capacity of a psychologist, social worker, lawyer, bargaining agent, police officer, or financial advisor at work. These are all skills that at times would be very useful, but misplaced in the context of employment. We always have to be on guard as to what we see, write down, get involved with, hear, or say. We have to know about a lot of things. In some ways, we are the millwright of the professions, or the IM competitor among swimmers.

Ultimately, this means we have to become one of the best sources of referral, and unfortunately, this also means we have to create more formality in our manner of dealing with our employee groups than what we feel is natural.

But truly, it takes heart to create a great HR experience. It takes one heart to convince others use their hearts. So, the challenge is to find the voice of the heart within the formality of a consistent, rational and user-friendly experience.

I have had this song in mind to do something with as part of this list for a long time. It isn’t my favourite song, but the lyrics have stuck with me ever since it first came out. I do recall scooting my skateboard downtown to the record store to buy Rush’s Farewell to Kings, the album for this song when it first came out. The song is that old and that important.

As leaders, situated in an important and somewhat precarious place, we do have a responsibility, and an opportunity, to make new meaning where no meaning currently exists.

For 2010, it is another resolution of mine to find great ways to mould a new reality that is closer to the heart. If you have suggestions on how to do this, or have an example of a person who is inspiring for their ability to achieve success and show their heart, or have experiences you’d like to share, I encourage you to write a response or blog which can be shared in a future newsletter.

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