What marks a rank HR beginner more than that person announcing with all wide-eyed enthusiasm: “I’m a people person!”? And thus the rite of passage commences. Eyes will roll. Someone will say right about then, “Just wait until you’ve been in HR for a year or so. You’ll change your tune.” Hear that hiss? That’s the sound of a deflating heart. Actually you’ll hear two hissing hearts: the young one and the older, more cynical one. Personally, I don’t think shattered idealism ever completely recovers; it just gets more practiced at operating on lower expectations.
Aside from peer pressure to look world-wise and weary, two experiences separate the heart from human resources. The first is the fundamental belief that business and the people side of business are mutually exclusive. Sure, business leaders talk a good game, the cynics say, but when reducing headcount raises the stock price by a few points, heads you lose.
But it’s the other experience I want to focus on today: The fun factor of collecting great stories about employees acting unreasonably, thoughtlessly, ridiculously, stupidly. HR people have satchels of these stories. Get two or more together and those stories often come out in a form of “I can top that” friendly competition. Before long, though, it takes on the effects of a drinking game. It’s fun at first, but do it too much and internal damage results.
These kinds of stories can be cathartic. They can make you feel superior, if only for the briefest moment in time. They can confirm some belief that there’s no real point in trying too hard. They can break your heart.
And they can remove you from your “people person” stance way too soon in the game.
Your alternative? Start collecting people-as-heroes stories. Here’s my favorite: In a small Texas start-up a few years back, a young engineer, barely in his 30s, was expecting his second child, his first still barely an infant. During the routine check-ups, they discovered his wife had terminal cancer. They chose to delay treatment until the baby was born, and by that time it was too late. So here was a very young man who wanted only one thing: to be with his wife in her diminishing days, while together they began the task of establishing a family that he would have to take on alone.
Naturally, however, he also needed an income. What to do? The entire company pooled their PTO and donated it to this guy so that he could take care of the only business he really needed to focus on at that time.
Who told me that story? The company’s long-time HR person, who was there from the very beginning. It was in answer to my question, “Tell me about a time when you were especially proud of your people.” The story was told through tears — hers and mine.
So. Like to think you’re a people person? Great! Hold on to that innocent position with all your might, throughout your entire career.
It’s the brave thing to do.
What feeds your faith in people? Send us a story of when you were especially proud of the people who work at your company.
Image credit, caracterdesign, via iStock