I’m back from a few weeks of PTO.
Part of my holiday was spent on Maui. Don’t know if you caught the news, but fallow sugar cane fields outside of a southwestern town called Kihei caught fire and the world briefly fell apart.
Ken and I were zip lining and zorbing in a town called Lahaina all day long. I thought zip lining was a little overrated, but going down a hill in an aqua ball was awesome. Four stars. You should do this with your kids. They would love it.
Our vacation was nearly over, but we planned to drive through Kihei to Wailea and get a massage at the Fairmont Kea Lani before boarding a red-eye flight home via LAX.
When we reached Kihei, traffic was slow, and the fire was unquestionably out of control; however, tourists were pulling off the side of the highway to take pictures and selfies with the smoke. I grabbed a video from the car and posted it on YouTube.
Once we reached the Fairmont and settled in for our massages, the fire had jumped several roads, and the airport was closed. Mobile phone coverage was spotty. We were stuck in Hawaii for one more night, which doesn’t necessarily suck, but it was hard to be happy with a raging fire on the island. The hotel stepped up and offered us a room with a 50% discount, which is classy.
With the roads closed, where would the locals stay?
There are many heroes in natural disasters. First responders, volunteers, and even everyday citizens who step up and help out. In this case, three groups went above and beyond—business owners, hospitality workers, and even HR professionals qualified as the stars of the show.
Yes, HR professionals were helpful.
Many business owners were accommodating to workers who were stranded. Hospitality workers stepped up and stayed at work to ensure a substantial customer experience at many of Maui’s fantastic hotels. And HR professionals were brokers who figured out if employees were safe, tried to manage calendars to ensure continuous coverage, and communicated important information about payroll and benefits to employees with questions.
It shouldn’t surprise me that HR professionals were heroes. Whether it’s a wildfire or an average Tuesday, human resources leaders are “experience brokers” who operate as liaisons and ensure operational integrity and excellence.
In the case of the fire, HR became brokers for technology systems and automated tools that failed to work. They were also compliance brokers who had to make individual decisions on attendance, payroll, and safety. Finally, they were brokers for the employees themselves. How do you motivate your workforce to stay when every fiber of their being wants to bolt and get home to their loved ones?
Thought leaders, pundits, and analysts are fond of telling HR professionals that they need to reimagine their roles. They say things like:
“Human resources leaders must be brave, creative, collaborative, decisive, talent-focused, have the ability to find compromises, goal-driven, persuasive, quick-thinking, strong sense of right and wrong, have high social and emotional intelligence with the skills to navigate a highly political environment, work well with others, perform and present with executive authority, display common sense, have the ability to deal with difficult people and provide feedback, value diversity and inclusion, and possess a positive and flexible attitude.”
As if they’re not already.
For years, I’ve been giving a talk called “Reimagining HR.” It’s starting to feel old and tired, and I’m no longer giving it. Instead, I’m asking audiences what they think about the future of HR since they work in that job for a living. I’m turning the speech into an Oprah-like conversation. I think it’s more interesting that way.
I’m also testing this theory: maybe we need to reimagine the role of the layperson who feels compelled to judge someone by an outdated understanding of how HR works. I’ve enjoyed my role as contrarian and provocateur, but I’ve always brought ideas and solutions. Many of the other jabronis in my industry? Not so much.
I’m the first to say yes, sometimes, HR does suck. I was early in saying that HR is complicit in #MeToo, I devoted an entire chunk of my early career to convincing mediocre human resources professionals to get on social media, and I’ve been warning recruiters about the dangers of hiring based on stupid concepts like cultural fit for over a decade.
But I’m also beginning to see how the entire system of work sucks. HR is a rat in a cage — just like you. And in the case of the Maui wildfires, they worked their asses off to take care of employees and customers alike.
There’s a legitimate conversation to be had about the world of work and human resources. We should debate what needs to be blown up, what needs to remain, and everything in between. I think that debate is happening in some fantastic forums. In the meantime, I’m banking on a new crop of human resources professionals to get stuff done.
And I’m ready to listen to them instead of lecturing them from a stage, too.