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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

HR, Kindness, and Being a Street Level Influencer

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” – Seneca


I was scrolling through LinkedIn the other day when I saw a video of a young kid being cheered on by his classmates when attempting to break a wooden plank with a karate kick.

He kept failing. As the child struggled, his team around him began to cheer him on. He kept failing. His team began to chant his name. He again failed. His team began to chant his name louder. He then eventually broke through, and a loud cheer went out as his team piled on him in celebration!

It was really awesome to see. It was beautiful, really. These kids instinctually rallied around their guy, and celebrated as he succeeded. It was wholesome altruistic joy!

Then I began to think about it. Why was this scene so awesome? Should it be? Is it awesome because it’s seemingly rare? We get choked up because this childlike innocence inevitably evaporates the minute the “real world” (whatever that means) begins to break that innocence.

It isn’t a new question. Boiled down to it, it’s asking essentially, are people naturally good or naturally bad? It’s a question as old as human thought.

Are people naturally inclined to cheer for one another and lift each other up when they witness someone fall, or are people naturally inclined to tear one other apart when they’re down?

Maybe the answer is more complicated, but again, I ask, should it be?

I think about this question and its implications in HR. The field has so many positive, good natured people in it! I’ve met so many, and continue meeting many others. These HR folks are the ones that stand up and cheer when employees finally break through their perceived limits to shatter a wooden plank. These HR practitioners truly care about all employees and helping to put them in positions to succeed.

For HR to be truly respected as an organizational function – strategic, tactically, transitional, or otherwise – the answer is simple. HR professionals cannot afford to be thought of as anything but naturally good. HR professionals must work harder than others to ensure that employees turn to us with confidence.

I don’t think we’re there yet.

When I was walking through the Las Vegas airport following SHRM National Conference, I was wearing some free swag. My shirt said “What Happens in Vegas Gets Reported to HR.” I thought it was cleaver and funny – at least initially.

As I walked through the airport, I felt many eyes gravitate towards me. A few people stopped me and said,

“That’s too good!”

“Man, that’s true!”

“Ain’t that the truth! Don’t go to HR!”

I felt slightly embarrassed, admittedly. I was trying to have some fun with my profession, but instead, I was bringing some negativity to it.

These interactions, however seemingly small, can’t be taken lightly. At least I didn’t take them lightly. There is still a prevailing stigma that HR isn’t there to help people. HR is there to uphold “the law,” keep employees in their place, or mess up their open enrollment process.

This should obviously not be interpreted as universal! There are PLENTY of examples of HR departments that rise to the occasion – plenty that go above and beyond to bridge relationships, build trust, and act justly.

However, maybe not enough?

Regardless, the tide has been turning for a while. With high profile HR influencers making waves and disrupting the fabric of the industry, HR is finally being seen as a strategic necessity by many in the C-Suite.

HR influencers have helped lead the way at a global level, but equally important – some could argue more important – is that HR pros at the street level need to become influencers as well. They need to become influencers at the street level. You don’t need to be on any grand list to make a difference! To make a difference in one person’s life is easier than you think!

Simply notice when they need you, and be there for them – be there for them at the moment when they need you the most. All you need to do is smile at an employee who hasn’t been smiled at in a while. Take a selfie with an employee and ask to put it in the employee newsletter as a shout out! Listen to them – really listen to them! Be kind, oh for Heaven’s sake be kind.

All it takes is an uncompromising attitude of being relentlessly kind! You may not be able to control the attitudes of a cruel CEO, the benefit packages that don’t seem generous enough, or the overall morale of the workplace. But you can ALWAYS control your own actions and attitude. So, take that power within and use it to light the world around you.

None of these ideas are new, I know, but sometimes we need reminders! It’s why my office is littered with post-it-notes! The next time you see an employee trying to break a wooden plank, for the love of God STOP THEM! You don’t need a worker’s comp case on your hands!

But then, ask them what they need, and feverishly try to help them achieve it.

Above all, be kind; be there for your people; be HR.

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