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The face of HR is changing. If your HR team is writing policies to police, they are going to get left behind and replaced by people with innovative ideas, emotional convictions and a high degree of emotional intelligence that can contribute more deservedly at the table.
In my early career, before I went into HR, I often found myself uneasy with the way people were treated. I’d go to HR hoping to genuinely understand an issue, but receive evasive, corporate-sounding answers instead. I would always leave dissatisfied and usually dismissed with, “It is what it is.” HR was never my calling, but I ended up excelling because I knew there must be a better way of doing it since, at the end of the day, I see everyone as important. At the core of my success is how I value fairness.
Here’s how it works in practice.
People are people
Being fair means treating all people as human and worthy of respect and kindness. When you see everyone as human beings first and as employees, managers or clients second, patience and understanding come naturally and open up the conversation. In HR, we put out a lot of fires, and I can tell you from experience that when you lead with empathy, kindness and respect, you mitigate a ton of issues down the road.
Background and achievements deserve merit, but don’t let notions of hierarchy limit your perceptions of someone’s capacity to succeed. Every day, we encounter many people from other countries, and you never know if you’re talking to someone who was, for example, a doctor before coming to the U.S. From the FedEx delivery person to the CEO, we’re all humans, and we’re all in this together.
Related: Three Reasons Why It’s Never Too Early to Invest in HR
Be real with everyone equally — like really, really real. I can’t stress this enough. Get out of bed to follow your authentic purpose and make a difference. Bring your core values to your role and every task you do. With authenticity, you attract people who value what you believe. Present your real self to everyone with equal transparency, and they’ll feel confident in who you are and want you to succeed.
People can be so afraid to approach C-levels, but when you’re real with everyone, they see that even people in positions above them are only human, too. They will also feel more comfortable forming relationships. If you’re real with people as a leader, they trust your intentions and want to contribute in a meaningful way. They’ll work harder, be more engaged and ultimately drive the business forward.
Related: 5 Human Resource Challenges Facing Small Businesses Today
Treating everyone fairly can cross divides. As a global company, we bring cultural biases into how we form business relationships. We incorporate cultural awareness so everyone understands how communication styles may differ. Everyone can learn and grow, and when you create opportunities to get them there, they’re usually immensely grateful, and the investment pays for itself.
Building bridges lets people feel safe, even if you can’t always solve their problems. People who end up in HR are typically there as a last resort, and the best thing you can do for someone feeling stranded with a problem is to simply validate their concerns. Listen to understand, not just to respond. Let them know you truly do want to help. You may not have all the answers, but at least you can build trust by genuinely letting them know you will at least try.
Related: 7 Ways to Ignite Employee Engagement and Boost Your Bottom Line
Push the envelope
Rules should be fair, so don’t be afraid to change the ones you don’t believe in. I had a very strict English upbringing with a lot of “yes sir, no sir” (and even curtsying!) The masters (not teachers) had rules, of course, but I was always trying to butt up against them. “Don’t run up the stairs,” they’d say, and I’d ask, “Why?” They never had a good reason, and as a result, their rules felt brittle and worthy of breaking.
As a leader, this means I develop rules that make sense and clearly communicate their purpose to everyone. I mean, if they don’t make sense to me, I am certainly not going to follow them, let alone try to enforce them.
Company image is important, but a large part of that comes from being a business that treats its people fairly. When problems get swept away — or worse, when people feel beguiled into believing someone will take care of them — they feel unsupported and lose trust, which will show up in the way they commit to their work. Listening and trying to help everyone on the team is a much more strategic approach in driving a business forward.