It’s all about finding “the one”. We have hired hundreds of people in the last 7 years and I will attest that ironically, the HR positions were by far the most challenging to hire for.
My “golden” question when interviewing for HR: “How have you handled a situation in the past where an employee asks to “speak with you in confidence” about a problem they are having with their manager?”
“I tell them absolutely, come on in”. Wrong.
“I take notes and launch an investigation”. Wrong.
“I ask them to tell me more details and I will handle the situation for them”. Wrong.
“I remind the employee that I am there to listen to them and advocate for them”. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!
Correct Answer: “I redirect them back to their manager and then to help coach the manager on the back-end how to handle the situation correctly.”
The issue is that too many HR people have been trained that their role is to “advocate” for the employee or to be their personal confidant/therapist. I interviewed countless HR people and I was routinely disappointed because they missed the most important part of their job:
HR’s primary purpose is to protect company liability.
Individuals that are attracted to the HR profession tend to be “people persons”. Ask them their favorite part of their job and they will say “working with the employees”. This desire to work directly with the employees is actually what causes the dysfunction in the first place. Their desire to “help” confuses the boundaries of their role. Contrary to the popular belief in the HR world, a CEO doesn’t want an HR team to “work with employees” — they hired managers to do that. Instead, the want HR to be the operational drivers of the company that create the platform of operations that allow the managers to do their jobs well.
HR has extraordinarily high influence. They recruit and onboard your team, they deal with problematic situations, they advise your leaders. They hear all the drama. They see the “worst” of your company and the “best”. Skilled HR people are actually the backbone of your company. They roll out workflows, they build systems, they contain information, they do all the CYAs necessary to keep your backside nice and pretty. They set the tone. Because of this, HR MUST be amazing. They will define your team one way or another — let them set the standard of excellence.
HR must be in full alignment with your vision as the CEO. They must be able to buy into the vision and feel compelled to be the ones to fulfill it with you.
We have a highly competent and capable HR team at Sample Supports with an excellent leader, though it did not come without trials and tribulations and lots of tears. I had countless “WTF?” moments with my head in my hands watching the ridiculousness that can unfold with the wrong people. We went through many HR professionals until finding “the one”, but we were relentless to find the people that “got it”.
How did I know my current HR Director was “the one”? The first time she had an employee ask “Can I talk to you about xyz in private”? Her response was “If you feel the need to share, I need you to know that nothing is confidential. I will be sharing the information with your leadership team and whoever you are concerned about.” Needless to say, that put the end to whatever drama that person was trying to spin.
I could have kissed her. I maybe would have kissed her, had it not been for all those awesome HR protocols about appropriate behavior that she set up and rolled out. 🙂
My advice to other CEOs struggling with finding a functional HR team? Remember that these people may be some of the most important people you hire. Don’t be afraid to kiss a lot of frogs — if nothing else, they will help you define the vision of what you don’t want and will ultimately lead you to the team you depend on. Your rare unicorn team may be one kiss away.
Andy Dunn has spent the past ten years building Bonobos. He’s funded about 15 other ecommerce companies, advises even more, and serves on the board of three others. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on better fitting pants, 100M in capital, and why men should embrace a world run by women.