I’ve been out of day-to-day HR for four years. It was one of the best decisions that was ever made for me. That’s not just because it set me on my current career path (whatever that may be), but it opened up a space for someone who liked doing HR.
I’ve obviously stayed close to the space in that time. This week though, I got a little closer than comfort to the function. HR software provider Silkroad invited me (and, for full disclosure, paid my way there) to their users conference in Florida.
Those who know me know I don’t go to most conferences for pure education. Usually it was either my conference (so I was working), I was speaking, or I was covering the conference as a journalist (so I was focused on reporting what I saw).
That wasn’t the case here. This time, I was at the conference like an attendee for the most part. Outside of a lunch with Silkroad executives, I was focused on experiencing the conference like a normal HR person would. So I listened to the keynote speaker on the first day (Dan Pink) and there were some parts where I saw some uncomfortable laughs from my pseudo-colleagues:
- When he suggested that performance reviews were simply CYA’s
- That to get the most out of white-collar, knowledge workers, you had to start first by paying them fairly and well
I won’t play armchair psychologist but I’ll tell you what I heard from attendees:
“I love the ideas, Dan. We’ve tried to convince our executive team for years on this. It is hopeless. We’ll drive engagement the best we can within our constraints.”
The theme transpired in other areas of the conference too. New social tools within Silkroad’s product are great but scary, as these HR pros imagine the worse case scenarios. They imagine how they sell this to an executive team that is probably thinking the same as they are.
And that’s fair. I’ve seen what a little bit of openness and social in an inappropriate and immature workplace looks like.
I’ll tell you what I saw: I saw a product that got out of its own way, allowed HR pros to do their job better, and to push employers toward a more progressive and engaged workforce. What I saw were HR pros driven by compliance, efficiency, old-school executive thinking, and squeezing value out of the product without making things uncomfortable at their job.
Let me be clear: I don’t think this is a problem with Silkroad, or with their HR customers. I’m sure the same story gets played out at other user conferences, regional SHRM meetings, and happy hour get togethers among HR pros.
When you follow the bleeding edge of HR like I do, you might assume that everyone is going the way of progressive HR. I love that part of HR. It keeps me fired up and it is something everyone can aspire to.
In that same vein though, we should also acknowledge the uncomfortable reality of HR as it largely exists today. Should we be happy with it? Should we think that’s all we can accomplish? No. The answer is clearly no. But let’s acknowledge that we need tools that not only help HR pros move forward but also tools that help them deal effectively with the present.