human resource woman casting a super woman shadow

Human Resources Has a Marketing Problem

It’s been nearly 25 years since I’ve done this thing called HR. It can sometimes be grueling and dreadful, but overall, the wins are far more than the losses. The rewards of helping an employee progress in their career far outweigh the crappy days of layoffs and terminations. Every job has its “yuck,” right?

It is true that every job has its “yuck,” but few have the implied fear like HR. Their tasks are visible to everyone and can be scary or intimidating. So, the reputation of HR is one that is naturally saddled with fear.

It doesn’t have to be, though.

In my first HR leadership role, I was young. Like really young. I came into a company that hadn’t evolved their people processes in…well, ever. It was a time capsule neatly preserved in the event the Smithsonian ever came calling for the old American family-style workplace culture. My policy-packing, compliance-first approach came in like a bull to that preserved china shop. No FMLA process in place? BOOM! Now we do. An FLSA audit? Yes, please! Change employee pay status to be compliant? BAM! Done. New Handbook? I thought you’d never ask. KAPOW! Implemented. I was productive. I stood atop that building with my HR cape flying and was ready to withstand any audit that came our way. Compliance guns smoking, I was proud of the work, except that I was a big fat failure.

While my Disc style “D” and my enneagram “8” was in hog heaven, the clear wake of destruction lay behind me. Our employees. They were confused and scared of this culture that was being created that seemed cold and corporate, and they were terrified of HR. We were viewed as fast-moving and fast-talking; if you got in the way, you would be mowed over or seen out. The result of my work allowed for employee protection through medical leaves and proper pay practices, etc. After all, I was here to help, not hurt! But I didn’t engage with my audience to understand the culture first.

I created an internal marketing problem for HR.

Repairing this would take time. Lots of time. Trust had to be established with my customers. Employees had to experience HR being supportive and trustworthy. Employee meetings were conducted to discuss opinions on new policies. Focus groups were held before new plans or programs were introduced to ensure employee buy-in. I also immersed myself in the operation and got to know people and their jobs. Rapport was established, and slowly, so was trust. Over time, people would drift into my office to chat. Employees started seeking out HR as an advisor on how to advance their careers. HR was asked to attend departmental meetings or team gatherings as a sounding board for ideas. Finally, there was progress.

This seminal lesson was a painful one. And the best one I’ll never forget.

Last Word
Change management is a fundamental skill; without it, the internal marketing problem that may surface is a long road to traverse. HR can significantly add value by bringing all voices to the table for problem-solving and facilitating for the best outcome.

And studying Marketing.

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