HR rises up to connect and engage

Human resources professionals have taken on a different look since the 1990s. Technology has changed. Empathy and engagement have emerged as skillsets.

Dawn Burke and Meghan Biro have seen the transformation and agree — with relief — there’s no going back to “the good old days.”

Burke is an HR and leadership advisor while Biro is a Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture chief executive officer.

In the last 20 years, there has been more emphasis in HR on people rather than just numbers. With less loyalty by employers and employees, the workplace has to be more attractive to enhance retention.

“Dear Lord,” Burke said in amazement. “The fact that HR people are being considered ‘cultural strategists’ is a big change. Huge.

“For sure, technology has changed HR. Big time,” she said. “I used to get resumes via fax. I had a hate relationship with the toner cartridge.”

Then there’s the personal aspect. Behind their doors, HR pros are people, too.

“Now, HR needs to define ‘engagement,’” Burke said. “HR people can have a beer and be friends with coworkers. Be a real human being at work. Seriously — not being snarky.”

New influencers

Biro said HR has become a more influential player in the work environment.

“Rather than focusing on managing personnel and administrative tasks, today’s HR departments spend more time and energies managing employee engagement and strengthening culture,” she said.

“New technologies now automate a lot of the work traditionally done by HR professionals,” Biro said. “We have programs that automate payroll and streamline the onboarding process. Platforms also simplify the recruiting process and talent-management systems.”

Not to be overlooked is newfound front-office influence.

“Today, the HR sits at the executive table,” Biro said. “The chief makes recommendations toward processes, business solutions and approaches likely to improve the ability of employees to perform better.”

The modern HR team is an assortment of experts, especially those focused on diversity. Future leaders are forward looking, aligned with corporate people goals and not predominantly numbers crunchers.

“Today’s HR team needs to know the modern worker,” Burke said. “They want transparency, speed, access and to be heard. If HR retreats from this, it’s not modern HR.

“Modern HR should reflect the organization,” she said. “If the HR team is too off the rails, that may backfire. But, if the team is stale, just don’t work there.”

Not business as usual

The status quo is anathema to contemporary HR.

“Don’t get jazzed by policies,” Burke said. “Value lies in redesign, connecting people to purpose, being subject matter experts and teaching management to their own HR business.”

In their updated roles, the HR staff has become trusted advisors.

“Modern HR teams are consulted rather than informed,” Biro said. “They are brought into strategic conversations and decisions, rather than simply told about decisions and expected to execute.

“The teams are more deliberate than reactive,” she said. “They understand high-level business goals and make proactive programs to help the organization achieve those goals.”

The big picture is within human resources’ grasp.

“Modern HR teams are more holistic,” Biro said. “They take a wider view of business goals and objectives. Then they use people to address them.”

From connection to engagement

Employee engagement and a culture of connection go together. If forced to make a choice, focus on connection first. Done well, that should lead to rewarding employee engagement.

“Connection is the action,” Burke said. “Engagement the result. Find ways to create connections — personal or team — to increase engagement.

“Don’t get hung up on the term ‘culture,’” she said. “Some executives viscerally flinch. Use whatever works. Use ‘environment’ for ‘culture’ if you must.”

Knowing how to relate to others isn’t necessarily a natural skill.

“Learn how to be connectors,” Burke said. “Start small. Start within your circle of influence — maybe your team.

“Connection is building trust,” she said. “Allow yourself to be real — vulnerable — giving people time. If you can’t do connection and engagement, start with one.”

Human resources pros should take advantage of their special place in the organization.

“HR has access to all departments, “Burke said. “HR is positioned to be connectors. If you’re not leveraging that professional, you need to reassess your strategy.”

Mix together

Bonding with people will lead to great outcomes.

“A culture of connection is important because culture isn’t about being cool or a ‘best place to work,’” Biro said. “It’s about being more successful. The organizations that have truly strong cultures directly connect their culture to what drives their success.

“Employee engagement, on the other hand, is also important to business,” she said. “Organizations with more engaged employees perform better and, ultimately, make higher profits.”

Weighing the approaches, you can’t have one without the other.

“A culture of connection and employee engagement work hand in hand to drive business objectives,” Biro said. “Both are required to succeed.”

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.