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The Secret to HR That Matters...

My friends Tim Sackett , Steve Boese and I are currently reading the same book - "The Book of Basketball" by Bill Simmons, which is a 700-page opus on the history of talent in pro basketball.

But wait - don't leave yet!  There's a secret I want you to know about HR that was highlighted via this book.  One of the early nuggets in the book is universally despised NBA great Isiah Thomas telling Simmons the "secret" of winning in basketball, which Tim Sackett captured from the book over at Fistful of Talent as follows:

"Don't worry about yourself (and your own success), worry about your team's success, that is, if you truly want to be successful."Book of basketball

Nice advice and easily transferred to any team environment.  Isiah means you shouldn't worry about how many shots you get, how many points you score, etc. Sackett followed that quote by sharing his Secret to Great HR over at FOT:

"The secret is extraordinarily simple, it's all about a few close relationships.  Depending on what type of organization you come from, it has to do with the relationship you have with those who are running operations. First, every organization has some type of operation - meaning every organization produces something - product, service, etc. Even in church, the pastor runs operations - sharing the gospel with people, for example."

Go read Tim's whole post at FOT, because it's a good one.  I'm going to throw my own two cents into the conversation and tell you what I consider to be the Secret to Great HR.  Here's my advice:

"Find a way to say yes."  

Period.  Next question

Find a way to say yes - that's the secret to great HR.  To build on Tim's thoughts, finding a way to say "yes" is how you develop relationships with the folks in operations.  For years, many in operations have been scarred by less than satisfactory relationships with HR types.  Ask enough questions, and you'll find that's because they're used to the "command and control" version of HR, one that specialized in saying no.

You want to be great HR?  Find a way to say yes.  Then watch how the operations folks start digging you.

To be clear, that doesn't mean you roll over on things that are harmful to the organization.  Instead, it means you pick your battles, say yes outright to as many small things as you can and don't sweat the small stuff.  Then, when the stakes are high and you need them to do "stuff" to make their solutions palatable, you say yes, then tell them the 1 or 2 things you need before you can agree with or implement their solution. 

Because you say yes as much as you can, the ops folks hear you asking for 1 or 2 things before they get to do what they want, and guess what - they'll actually want to help do the right thing.

The secret to great HR - find a way to say yes.


Tim Sackett

Ah, Yes - I think you've got it!

I completely agree with your secret - I think it goes very well with "I/We can do that." Don't know how, don't know when - but I'll find a way to get it done. Ops people like that as well.

Bruce Lewin

I can just imagine the CEO telling the shareholders that the great people-driven leap in performance was because people said 'yes' more ;-)

The counterpoint must be the competitor saying their did even better just by saying 'we'll think about it' :-)

robert edward cenek

I can see it! HR develops a DARE-like
bumper sticker:

Just Say Yes

On a more serious note...HR should primarily be focused on architecting people and leadership systems - and providing counsel as solicited. In this scenario there is less pressure to say yes because the function is more rarely involved in transactional, "HR be da enforcer" role.


This is a really great post! Sometimes finding a way to say yes means putting in the work to find a solution which negates policy risk and attacks the problem from the angle your client is pushing for. They are the experts in their business and you are the expert in HR - find a way to help them do what they are trying to do while navigating the HR system (obvious disclaimer: when the client isn't trying to do something really stupid). We really need to repeat this message as many times as we can (with the disclaimers of course).

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