By: Michelle Berg

8 years ago, I decided to take a major leap into the world of entrepreneurship. I had no idea what I was doing but I was determined to give it a go. 8 years later…here we are. And I still often feel like I really have no idea what I’m doing.

Throughout the years, I have definitely learned some things about HR. Here are the 8 ways our philosophies have changed over the last 8 years:

1.Mental Illness

Then: Don’t talk about it. The less you talk about it, you can always fire down the road without cause. <– This was our main modus operandi. But just cause it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s right.

Now: It’s your duty as an organization to build programs that support people to talk about mental illness. My favourite moment of 2018 has been when I convinced a company who wanted to let go an employee who had been in and out of rehab 3 times during his tenure to keep trying – but this time to build out a program that would be prepared for his next relapse. To talk openly about the addiction with others and to train others on how to support those with addictions. It’s been eye opening to watch employees rally together to be a support system rather than sweep it under the rug.


2. Sexual Jokes

Then: Don’t let a dirty joke get in the way of building relationships.  A guy says something perverted, ignore it. A woman makes a sexual advance, get over yourself and consider yourself lucky. Complaining about it will only get put on a list of “not to promote”.

Now: I don’t know the answer. But I’m willing to admit that. I’ve had my fair share of client interactions that are really awkward. And now I have clients saying they don’t want to be in the same room as women for fear of a complaint. My advice is fairly simple: Don’t talk about sex or about someone in a sexual manner. Don’t talk about your genitalia (or send pics). And don’t touch. I think you’re pretty safe at that point. But on the flip side: don’t be afraid to say: “Hey dude – over the line!” It doesn’t need to be an investigation. And it’s not always about someone trying to use/gain a power position. Talking about sex can be funny and silly (there’s certainly been a few offside conversations in our office). But it can also be traumatizing. Remembering the audience continues to be the best advice I can give. And of course, build a culture that’s not afraid to speak up when they are uncomfortable is your best defence.


3. Open Office Space

Then: Open office spaces create the most collaboration.  Plus, they are fun and everyone loves them.

Now:  Open offices DO NOT work for everyone. While it’s a great way to save money in terms of operational expenses, it actually detracts productivity (which affects ROI), leads to fewer conversations on the phone and more emails, even if you are only steps away (which affects ROI) and leads to less feedback because relationships just aren’t created the way they used to be. While open spaces can be good (and I’m not practicing what I preach because we have an open office concept at Elevated) – a better option is to get really good at working from home. But that can be even harder to do (and especially as a business owner – it’s hard not to feel taken for granted when you give this as a perk). You need to build in great practices that help people to feel connected and ensure connection points are still part of the team atmosphere. You need to know how to keep people accountable and get really transparent about expectations.


4. Candidate Experience

Then: Communicate as little as possible to the candidates. They might use what they tell you against you – when you are honest, they may make a human rights complaint. You don’t even need to tell them they didn’t get the job.

Now: Candidates are certainly getting lazier (I mean come on…write a damn cover letter). On the flip side – HR MUST communicate with candidates. You never know if they could be a future customer, client or brand ambassador.  It’s hard to tell a candidate why they weren’t successful, but if you are putting them through the process, I think you owe it to them to tell them why didn’t get the role. No – not for every resume you receive perhaps, but for the ones that get a phone interview for sure. And no. We aren’t so great at it either, but it is part of our overall experience that we are working on daily.

PSA for candidates: If you want feedback on why you didn’t get the job, make it easy to give feedback. It’s honestly the hardest part of the recruitment role…fear of what you will say back!  


5. Who HR Works For

Then: HR works for the CEO / the Company. HR tries to make things better for the employees but we don’t work for them.

Now: The CEO pays us. The management team needs us. The employees need to understand that we have very little power if we keep you anonymous. As an HR professional, we have a fiduciary duty to try to ensure that the employee is heard. HR consistently underestimates how much the employees can be your biggest advocates and adversaries. They are however your client; the same way a company has external clients. HR must be paying attention to each of the experiences they produce for their employees. They can have the biggest influence on brand and ambassadorship in the company if they do it right!

PSA to Employees HR has no “real” power – so stop being scared of them! Their power is in what you give to them. Just because they know what you get paid or the last letter that went in your file does not give them power. But be open with them if you need help and be prepared to hear an answer that may not be in alignment with what you want. You can’t always get what you want even if you think it’s the best idea in the world. 


6. Technology Can Change Everything

Then: Put everything in the cloud. Communicate everything via tech. It serves as great backup. It protects you. It’s easy.

Now: Put everything in the cloud but don’t forget that technology does not replace the human touch. I’ve tried every feedback loop, engagement/pulse, communication software out there (okay, I’m sure not “every” but we’ve done a lot!)  Nothing replaces a good old eye ball to eye ball conversation. Nothing. Make time for your people and stop relying on tech (or policies for that matter).


7. Compensation is a Secret

Then: If they talk about compensation, just fire them as a breach of confidentiality. They shouldn’t be talking about it.

Now: Everybody talks about compensation. If you’re embarrassed by your compensation program and what you pay people, it means you have an issue with your compensation program. The more transparent you are with compensation the easier the conversations become. Stop trying to pay as little as possible – that’s not how you win. And stop asking “What’s your salary expectation?” for the role. Instead, establish a range and be prepared to pay inside the range.


8. Loyalty

 Then: Don’t reward loyalty. It leads to complacency.  Who cares if you have employees there for 20 years. They are going to be too set in their ways.

Now: Don’t underestimate loyalty. Don’t get complacent with YOUR loyal employees. They need to continue to be challenged and rewarded. Don’t assume just because they have been with you for 5-10-15 years that they will stay.  But don’t be afraid to have the tough conversations when their commitment doesn’t come out the way it used to. You need to keep them hungry but remember it’s not easy always chasing a carrot.


Final Thoughts…

And you know what’s crazy – there is a theme/thread in all of these lessons? We as a society, as employers, as colleagues, as managers, as leaders, as employees…need to get better at not only giving feedback, but actually receiving it. That’s where the good stuff happens. That’s when we see the real change happen in organizations. That’s when HR can actually make a difference – when people are committed to not only giving but listening as well.

It’s hard. But isn’t anything worth doing, hard?

Want to know what you can do to improve your HR capacity?

Let us help you reimagine your HR

Contact Us