Working in HR Takes Courage: A Conversation with Steve Browne

If you participate in social media and work in HR you have no doubt heard of Steve Browne. Steve has used his influence to positively build a strong community within the world of HR. It was a great honor for me to sit down and have a conversation with Steve this month and hear all of his great insights around the profession and learn more about his passion for the world of work. 

Recently, I had the chance to talk with Steve about his thoughts on HR and where the industry is heading.

Here’s something you might not know about Steve: he started off as a Chemical Engineer Major in College. However, early in his school career he witnessed an incident in the lab where a Professor treated a student extremely poorly and a light bulb went off for Steve. At that moment he realized that he wanted to go into a field where he could take care of people. He switched programs and moved into human resources and hasn’t looked back! He has been enthusiastically working in HR since 1986 and has seen the profession go through a lot of good and bad changes over the years.

Here’s the aspect I love the most about Steve: what you see is what you get. He is a genuine, authentic, caring human being who consciously makes a positive contribution to the workplace and the world. That does not mean that Steve is naive, he knows what it’s like to be in the trenches and deal with the day-to-day challenges that inevitably come up in the workplace. However, he also realizes that we have a choice to operate from a positive mindset or a negative mindset. He definitely chooses to adopt the former and uses his influence to create environments where people can thrive.

Here’s a transcript of my conversation with Steve:

What does the evolution of HR look like to you?

First and foremost the thing that HR needs to remember is that we need to be relevant. Period. If we’re not business people and not adding to the value of the organization, then we won’t be relevant. This is true for all positions in the organization, when we’re thinking about other roles in the company we’re always asking ourselves, should we keep this person? Is this person contributing and adding value? It should be the same thing for HR, but we tend to see ourselves as outsiders. Steve believes this model is changing and if HR remains an outsider in the organization, then it will just be a matter of time until they’re gone. If we look out 5-10 years from now, these people won’t be in HR.

What’s needed in HR?

Simplification. The biggest thing that HR has killed themselves with is playing the corporate game and buying into massive systems. There are layers and layers of stuff and we have forgotten about the people. It’s time to go back to our roots and do more of the one-on-one with people. Most HR is practiced on a macro level, on the whole – let’s have a policy that takes care of everyone. When, in fact, that policy only actually takes care of 10% of the population. HR should be building relationships with every level in the organization. You should have a relationship with the senior level, not just know them. You should have a relationship with the frontline, not just dictate to them. HR IS the culture people and some of us don’t want to say this but we need to own it. The question should be, how can I connect with you to influence or sway your behavior? This is to help people perform, not to control them. If you can understand an individual’s unique felt need and honor it that is what builds loyalty. HR can’t be everything for everyone.

Steve’s thoughts on compliance

Compliance should be about defining the parameters you can work in. They are parameters so people can do well not parameters to be used as rules against people. We need rules of course, if someone is breaking the law their needs to be repercussions. Compliance should be part of what HR does as a profession, but it should not drive who we are.

Earlier this year, you and Paul Hebert started a highly interactive group on LinkedIn called HRPositive. Why did you start this group?

We both felt there was a need in organizations and in HR to be more authentic and genuine. The field is filled with people willing to tear it down, HR is the only profession that operates from this place - you don’t see this happening in accounting, sales or marketing. Too many HR professionals see the negative behavior, writing or posturing and they believe it, they own it. A lot of professionals are tired of it, they’re looking for the positive. What HR does is hard. Dealing with employees is tough and a positive message resonates with them. Let’s stop tearing people down and built up the profession instead. Sometimes in HR you see a lot of the dark side of life, so a group like HRPositive brings out the light. HR has the opportunity to bring life back into organizations. When they do that, they’re healthier as professionals and organizations are healthier.

How do you succeed in HR?

If you’re going to be successful in HR you need to be unflappable. No story is too graphic, too vulgar, too unnerving or too judgmental because people bring all sorts of stuff to work. HR needs to be the steady ones, they can’t be alarmists. Another important quality to possess is the ability to meet people where they are. Instead of trying to say “Accept me for who I am first” operate from the mentality of “Accepting them for who they are first”. You should be able to relate to all sorts of personalities and demographics. Put things on the bottom shelf. Don’t talk above people or at them, put it right where it’s attainable for them and they’ll respond every time. I believe the best way to learn and develop these skills is to be around people who already operate this way and model these behaviors. The best way to be more successful is to surround yourself with people who are successful. Just like the HRPositive Group is about surrounding yourself with like-minded positive people. This approach to HR can change organizations and change lives.

Final Thoughts

One of the last things Steve said that really resonated with me is “HR needs to stop apologizing for what they do and stop asking for permission”. They need to own it.

I believe in Steve’s truth wholeheartedly, HR is the driving force in organizations. They have an important role to fill and they shouldn’t forget it. Human Resources has an opportunity to create profound change and make a positive impact in workplace.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse


Posted by Kristen Harcourt / 03 Dec 2015