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Just a Coupla Chicks Having an HR Conversation

May 20, 2011
tags: ,

The other night I was at a local networking event (p.s. it was loads of fun – shout out to my girls Lydia and Flor) . It was for women, we drank wine, and it was held on Wednesday.  Read more about it here and see if you want to add your own local event. But I digress.

While meeting all these fabulously accomplished women I was, at one point, damn-out dumbstruck.  One of my tablemates (who I have since named Eva Gabor, cuz she was kinda glamorous and stuff), has been a working professional for 30+ years  at small, mid and super-large-global companies.  Upon finding out I worked in HR,  she said to me: “so what exactly do you DO in HR?”

Me:   “uhhhhhhhhh; **………**”

Eva Gabor:  “Oh Honey…. all I’ve figured out that HR does is enroll me in my benefits and sort of interview me so they can pass judgment if I’m worthy enough for my eventual boss to interview and hire me”

Me:   “uhhhhhhhhh; **………**”

Eva Gabor:  “so what DO you do all day?”

Me:  “**……..**” “blah blah” ‘culture’, “blah blah” ‘ensure our managers are equipped to engage our staff’, “blah blah”, ‘compliance’ (yup, I said it), “blah blah”, “align culture”. “blah blah”, “employer branding’ (oh F-me, I think I really said it and can’t take it back), “blah blah” ‘company goals’ “blah blah”……………………………….. (like I really think I just wound down)

Eva Gabor:  “uhhhhhhhhh; **………**”

(now btw – this delightful and accomplished woman was a true southern lady, only drinks champagne (like the real stuff from France), and was totally not picking on me – merely curious)


So there I sat.

And initially I was pissed.  Does anyone ask Accountants what they “do all day?’  When was the last time you heard someone ask a PR professional or a Network Administrator how they spend their time? Who the hell  (I thought) is ‘Eva Gabor’ to ask ME what I do all day?  Just cuz her HR people sucked doesn’t mean I do!


Deep breath.


Now Ryan Estis has told me I need an elevator speech (sadly I’ve ignored his advice which you should not do).  So there I sat, on this gorgeous Louisiana night, in a fabulous garden courtyard, scrambling for the words to describe what I do e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y.  Because that’s what really what she asked me.  Not what my ‘big picture” focus is. Not what HR means.  Not what HR is about.  She wanted to know how I spend my time.  How do I fill those hours between 8 AM and 5 PM.

So as I sipped a lovely wine (‘tho I neglected to get the name) it struck me that perhaps I’ve become somewhat ashamed jaded cynical about what I actually DO do all day.  But dammit – it’s important.

I’m in the trenches. The lovely lovely trenches of a small/mid-size company.  I may spend hours building spreadsheets, cleaning out files, compiling records and planning system changes that make the lives of our employees and managers easier.  It’s entirely conceivable that I may devote several hours to an OSHA/UI/WC/ADA or FMLA issue.  I can lose the better part of an hour immersed in the minutiae of a staff member’s vacation time as I reconstruct time accrued vs. time taken vs. time recorded…on paper…by hand.. with a pencil.  Sometimes our HR Rep and I spend a few days at a time cleaning out files and purging and archiving PAPER (yes, paper) records. And sometimes, as Eva/Lisa Douglas might appreciate, I have my own Eb Dawson at work who treats me like “mom” – and needs my assistance.

But I also have sufficient time to sit and read and think big thoughts.  I’m fortunate that I’ve got time in my day to ponder and research and plan and envision my organization’s future.  I’ve got time to walk down and chat with the VP of Sales, the VP of Marketing or a department manager to find out what they’re worrying about or what project is consuming their time.  I can stop and visit with employees.  And then I can wander over and visit with my CEO and let her know what’s happening.


So what do I do all day Ms. Eva?  Simple……

I keep my business running.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. HRBR permalink
    May 20, 2011 7:21 am

    Robin, you rock! Thanks for the shout out! As I recall, it seems as though Eva Gabor (love it!) kinda tossed that question right out there and myself and your other HR bud certainly left it to you field it. So, being no help from the peanut gallery, I think elevator speeches may be in order… and now will begin working on mine. Maybe, I’ll be better back up in the future. haha It was a good time! I appreciate your real-ness.

  2. May 20, 2011 7:38 am

    Robin: Very clever use of Green Acres! Now the song will be stuck in my head all day. (thanks for that!)

    Don’t feel too badly about Eva’s question. It’s highly possible that the companies she worked for, at least the small to mid-sized companies, were entrepreneurial startups. I’ve worked for entrepreneurs most of my life, and they have an inherent fear of HR. Seriously, I think it is coded into their DNA. So until they get big enough, or go public, or have a Board that requires it, they will not have a true HR department.

    They may have someone who helps with the benefits, maybe an office manager, who some employees (that have been in the real biz world) will begin calling the HR person.

    I could be wrong, but my guess is that this was Eva’s background. I’ve worked for companies up to $100 milllion in revenue that never had anyone in the HR role. It wasn’t until I spent some time at Coca-Cola that I saw HR in action.

    Never fear. Your role is important, and valued. Just not so much by the entrepreneurs!

  3. May 20, 2011 8:42 pm

    Very well said and then next time I get stuck in the mud because my HR is not sexy enough, I’m coming right back here to this post. Was great to see you in Atlanta Robin!

  4. May 20, 2011 9:22 pm

    Funny post!
    I think the reason it’s so hard for HR – particularly generalists – to answer the question is because we do so much. And each thing that we do may be very from the next. (Kind of like when people ask moms what they do all day, eh?)

    An accounting does work related to making sure the money is handled properly, efficiently and profitably. HR does work related to making sure the people are handled properly, efficiently and profitably.

    An accountant might do AP, AR, financial statements, taxes, etc. An HR person might do staffing, employee relations, compensation, benefits, management guidance, workforce planning, etc.

    It’s not a bad idea in our quest to bring respect to the profession to make sure people understand what the heck it is we do!

  5. May 23, 2011 9:00 am

    Daaahhhling, You had me at the whole “like the real stuff…from France”

  6. May 23, 2011 11:57 am

    Loved this post — I feel as though I was sitting at the next table and spying. (That wasn’t actually me — I swear). Here are some other possibilities for part of your elevator talk:

    1. We keep employees from strangling one another
    2. Like your local police, we handle those emergencies that you never expected and then you don’t think about us until the next crisis.
    3. We keep up with all the laws and regulations so you don’t get your little champagne-filled-self sued
    4. If we HR people told you what we do, we’d have to kill you. Or place you on admin leave. They are somewhat similar.

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