what if people mattered?

Imagine with me for a moment…

What if people mattered to the success of a business?

What if people were a crucial part of delighting customers and ensuring return business?

What if people were necessary to create and invent and innovate?

What if people used their experience and judgment to make decisions that affect outcomes?

What if people each had their own strengths, weaknesses, goodness, and extremes?

What if people each had their own interests, dreams, desires, and constraints?

What if people weren’t all the same and couldn’t be removed and replaced like gears on a machine?

What if people were sometimes employees, sometimes shareholders, or sometimes customers? What if they were sometimes all three at once?

What if people were complex and unpredictable and that sometimes leads to brilliance?

What if people were complex and unpredictable and that sometimes leads to disaster?

What if people had their own lives going on and didn’t live or die for the organization?

What if people weren’t all like you?

What if people were different and that difference might create strife, conflict, chaos, energy, synergy, and great leaps forward?

What if people had uniqueness that was both their biggest strength and worst weakness?

What if people were necessary to get work done?

What if people need businesses less than businesses need people?

What if people were required to interpret data and make decisions and take actions based on sound judgment, intuition, and wild guesses?

What if people invented and built all the technology that changes business?

What if people wanted to feel safe, respected, liked, and valued?

What if people made decisions and took actions based on their feelings and emotions and only used logic and reasoning to justify their decisions and actions?

What if people didn’t always act in their own best interests?

What if people sometimes do stupid things?

What if people were more loyal to people than to the initials inc., llc., gmbh., or ltd.?

What if people and the relationships they have with other people generated more business than spreadsheets?

What if people were necessary to dream up, make, deliver, and improve the products and services your business sells?

What if people were a crucial part of creating compelling messages, attracting and assisting customers, and growing the business?

We’re still just imagining here… But what if some – any – of this were actually true? What if people, in all their complex, irrational, unpredictable, humanness, were actually crucial to business results?

Would that change the emphasis on how much effort you put into finding and hiring the right people?

Would you put a different level of priority on your efforts to develop and improve the people you invested in by hiring?

Would the employee experience become important?

Or, if you knew people were actually a prime competitive advantage, would you pretend they weren’t and spend your time, energy, and money on other things?

above the line HR

There are two basic approaches to Human Resources: above the line and below the line. The line has nothing to do with ethics, transparency, or straightforwardness. The line is simply the no man’s land between the two philosophies. The line represents: Things Are Ok.

If we talk about health and wellness, some consider a lack of disease to be healthy. Others insist that health and wellness is something more than not being sick: it’s vitality, energy, radiant well-being. The line between the two represents being ok. The first approach fixes things if they drop below the line – illness or injury – the second sees the line of being ok as a starting point and strives to move far beyond the line to increase wellness.

HR can be viewed the same way. One approach exists to prevent things from breaking (don’t get sued!) and fix them when they do. It’s a reactive approach that assumes that as long as the company is compliant with laws and regulations – as long as it doesn’t get “sick” – HR has done its job well.

The above the line approach sees this as the starting point. Yes, you should keep it legal and prevent leaders and employees from doing terminally stupid things – but that’s the bare minimum expectation. Above the line HR does more than prevents illness, it sees the opportunity to help the company excel much like a trainer helps athletes improve. A trainer doesn’t just keep the athlete from being sick, they push to create maximum wellness and physical performance. The trainer can’t do it for the athlete, but brings knowledge, process, and discipline to the athlete’s efforts. AND maximizing physical performance also means super disciplined nutrition, preventative care, and top notch medical attention – all of which prevent illness and injury. The above the line approach naturally addresses below the line concerns because it can’t improve performance unless it prevents and mitigates health setbacks.

Above the line HR is the same way. To help the company (athlete) get the most performance, it has to be really sharp and proactive about making decisions and taking actions and providing the training, tools, and processes that minimize the need for below the line approaches. For example, few, if any, “illegal” interview questions provide any information that leads to identifying high performance employees, so why ask them? Performance is performance whether it’s male, female, white, black, yellow, blue, or green, in a wheelchair, left handed, believes in nine gods or none at all, etc., etc., etc. Kneejerk management decisions that often get companies in trouble are avoided, prevented, or mitigated not just to prevent trouble but because stupid decisions get in the way of people being at their best and hurt the engagement and commitment of the most talented employees (the ones you want to keep around). The athlete may go against the trainer’s advice, but does so balancing the potential consequences rather than out of ignorance or narrow perspective. Likewise, HR can’t make business decisions for leaders but can do everything in its power to ensure leaders are making informed and (hopefully) better decisions.

Who has a bigger impact on your personal vitality – the doctor you see only when sick or the physical trainer and nutritionist you consult with regularly? If HR is not “at the table” (sorry, I hate that expression), chances are it’s because they are viewed as the doctor that only gets visited after the fact to cure illness and injury. Staying below the line ensures minimum influence and impact.

Two approaches. One keeps the company from not getting sick, the other pushes for maximum health and performance. One prevents bad, the other strives to create the most good possible. They are similar in wanting to protect the company’s health but very different in philosophy, approach, and outcomes.

Above the line, below the line. What thinks you?