Do I look like a f@%king people person?

I once had a colleague who drank his coffee out of a mug that carried the above phrase. I was so jealous. I’ve always wanted but never been able to locate one. It so totally encapsulates my attitude to HR and sense of humour.

It’s one of the great myths of HR that you have to be a people person. As a cliché, it’s right up there “the cheque’s in the post” and “you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.” Once upon a time this may have been true, but the reality is that to succeed in HR you have to be flexible, smart, inventive and business savvy. Being good with people would struggle to make my top ten.

Of course if you are a people person AND have all the other qualities then you’ve got it all and I hate you. If you asked me am I a people person I would probably say no. Why? Because I’m perfectly happy with my own company, often described as “deep” i.e. I’m a male so don’t communicate my thoughts enough, I’m selective with my sympathy, can be a bit grumpy and I’m largely an introvert. But that is a very one-sided way to look at the question of course.

I could also say that while I have few close friends, I am very loyal to those I have, I’m an avid social networker (although real networking is always a bit of an ordeal), I love to help people who I think have potential and I generally always try to do the right thing by people. As an HR professional, sure my main priority is make sure the needs of the business come first but I do care about the workforce – that they are treated fairly, that we develop and reward good people and look after those in trouble. But I take a business-wide view. People are resources and no one’s irreplaceable.

I’ve seen good “people-focused” HR folk really struggle because they care too much and lose sight of their real purpose. They spend too much time listening to petty grievances and being the conscience of the organisation, being an employee advocate if you will, to actually make a difference. I’m also of the view that if you work in HR you choose your friends very carefully at work. You can’t afford to be everyone’s friend, or be seen as too closely aligned to particular individuals or groups. And don’t get involved in office politics. It’s just the way it is if you want to be seen as effective and professional in your role, and someone who can be trusted.

The excellent Sarah Miller (Whipper Snapper HR) recently challenged the more experienced HR bloggers around the world to write the HR we want the next generation to see. She challenged us amongst other things to talk about HR as a real profession, why we came into it and why we want to stay in it.

HR was my second real career after years spent as a policy advising line manager in the public sector. My desire to work in HR had nothing to do with being a people person. I had spent a couple of years supporting two HR managers early in my career and realised I was fascinated by human behaviour and curious as to what makes people tick. I decided there and then HR was something I would like to do for real one day.

When the opportunity came up to move into HR and re-train I grabbed it with both hands. I had 7 years experience as a line manager and I worked in a Government department whose HR team was a bit of a joke. They had no integrity, no idea they were there to provide a service or how to communicate or be proactive. I thought there had to be a better way and that was the sort of new challenge I was looking for. Fortunately, the manager of the team recognised how poor they were, wanted new blood and new ideas and approached me directly to come and be part of his new team. I think I made a real difference through some challenging times and never looked back. In my early 30’s I suddenly realised I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Some years ago, a young colleague once said to me “you’re not like the other HR people are you?” which I took as a great compliment. I think what she was suggesting was that I had a down to earth, no nonsense attitude and didn’t take myself too seriously compared to some of our more senior colleagues who were busy back stabbing, sucking up and positioning themselves with leaders. I also think it’s because I’ve had another career before HR. I’ve been on the other side of the fence and experienced HR people who don’t deliver.

I’ve been through some tough times in the last ten years – a couple of particularly nasty and incompetent managers, the recession, making close colleagues redundant, major restructures and change projects that weren’t to everyone’s liking. But through it all, I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t wake up in the morning wanting to go to work.

The truth is. I f@%king love what I do! I live and breathe my job and can’t wait to get to work each day. My wife struggles to understand that because she’s never really found a job she is truely passionate about. And I know I’m lucky, because to most people a job’s just a job. Something they have to do. Me? I love being part of a good team, love the fact that I’m still learning and finding like-minded people all around the world who share my passion for good HR and want to help create a better profession. Passion trumps ambition any day of the week. Does that make me a people person? Well, OK maybe. Just don’t tell anyone.

4 thoughts on “Do I look like a f@%king people person?

  1. Amanda Sterling (@sterling_amanda) says:

    This blog is awesome! HR people don’t necessarily have to be people people. I did an HBDI (Hermann Brain Dominance Indicator) test a couple of years ago and came out really low preference in the red quadrant (which is the interpersonal, relationships quadrant). My colleagues were really surprised – I’m in HR and supposed to be a people person, right? And that is what they saw – a people person. I think this perception is driven by me wanting to do right by the business and make sure people are happy and productive in their jobs.

    Add to that, I’m also an introvert. But I think I’m actually better at building relationships than most extroverts, mostly because I listen and ask more questions (or I like to think I do :-). Some of the best HR people I know are also introverts.

    So thank you for getting people to think about what makes a good HR person.

  2. interimity says:

    One of the most scary things when you are recruiting for your own (HR) team – ‘I want to be in HR because I like people’. Nope, you should want to be in HR because you know that it makes huge business sense to create and sustain an environment where you can, uncynically, get great engagement and buy in. This is through making sure employees (the right people for the right role) are treated with care, fairness and dignity. And you want to be the advisor/coach and expert resource for the line managers to make sure that they are equipped to do this.

    Hmm, try as hard as I might – I just can’t make it sound sexy. But I know it can be a great role!

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