It is Saturday morning, and I’m scheduling job interviews. My company got the assignment to fill an HR position for a local employer, and I’m chatting with HR job candidates about it. Some of them are all business. “Where is the company located, how many employees do they have, and what is the salary range?” I answer their questions.
I hear a hard, clipped tone in their voices and I think “This person has been dealt some tough blows by the universe, and doesn’t feel safe.” Other people joke and laugh on the phone with me. One woman asks me, “If you were me, would you love this job?” What a great question, I think. “I did this job in another company very much like the one you’re going to interview with,” I said.
“It was fun and hard and overwhelming. There were policies to write and systems to put in place, and at the time, I thought that’s what I was doing every day on the job. Of course, looking back, I was doing that stuff, but that wasn’t the real job. The real job was to build mojo in the people and build energy on the team. It was magnificent. It’s what all Human Resources people should get to do.”
Human Resources — what a concept! People, of course, are not resources. They are warm, passionate, funny, silly, random beings with dreams and ideas and entanglements that make them awesome and complicated to be around or to work with. What does a company need more than that? Our client, the guy who runs the company with the HR job opening, knows it, and everyone I’m talking with about the job knows it too. But lots of people don’t feel safe bring themselves to work all the way. Some of them have brought their full, authentic, passionate selves to work before and have been burned in the process.
Job-seekers are wary, and who can blame them? For way too long — at least twenty years, in my reckoning — all but the most switched-on employers have treated job-seekers like dirt. The fact that the people I’m talking with today are HR people, some of the very folks who’ve been charged with establishing or overseeing recruiting systems to turn people into commodities and tick marks, doesn’t change a thing. I talk to HR people about that issue all the time. “What have you done or what are you trying to do in your company to humanize the hiring process?” I ask them. “I have no power to do that,” they tell me. “Our recruiting process is so formula-driven and mechanical there is no humanity left in it. I’ve talked about it at meetings until I’m blue in the face. The leadership team wants it that way.”
When did we all become so powerless and so feeble against the tide of cruelty-by-automation? When did we decide that anonymous Big-Brother-ish Black Hole recruiting systems were just the thing to bring us vibrant, switched-on and passionate people? Or do we fear those people – is that the real issue? Do we install businesses processes right out of a dystopian novel because we’re afraid that if people are too human at work, something terrible might happen?
To the clipped-tone people, I say “Ask me anything you like, about this company and this position.” Some hesitate. Do they fear it’s a trap? Some of them can’t get past the rows and columns. “What payroll vendor does this company use?” they ask. Ay carumba — who the heck cares? Ask me about the culture, friend! Ask me about the way people talk to one another in the break room. Ask me if the CEO has a heart, and not just a brain. Ask me about the important stuff.
Some of the job-seekers on the phone know the human score. “Liz,” asked one woman, “Can this leadership team tell the truth to one another?” She gets it, I thought. We’d all get it, if we could stop to remember that we’re people first, and working people and employees second. Who benefits, when people shut off their creativity and spark and vulnerability to put on a suit and pretend to be robots? No one benefits — our families and our communities suffer, our health suffers, and the whole planet suffers.
We can do better. We can bring our full selves to work. We can be human all the way, and let Staples or Office Depot supply the resources in the form of bond paper and pens and whatever else we need to get our work done. People are anything but resources — we could think of them as magical geese that lay golden eggs. The trick, of course, is remembering that the geese only lay those eggs when they feel valued and understood. I tell job-seekers, “If they don’t get you, they don’t deserve you.” When will leadership teams get the message, stop treating their golden geese like reams of bond paper, and get the human piece back into Human Resources?