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On Human Relations

I feel like HR in a business is widely considered to be a job for soulless workers who exist in an adversarial capacity against anyone who threatens the livelihood of the business, but mostly in the form of internal threats. Largely, when I hear of HR, I hear of ways in which the business finds ways to proactively shield itself against its own employees. I understand the need for this devil’s advocate role – if the business doesn’t set aside resources to protect itself, no one else will do it on the company’s behalf, so it needs to establish some muscle for itself.  On the other hand, I feel like this should only really be a minor capacity of the HR role.

Any business will of course need resources to protect itself, but I envision the human relations department as a much more important role than just gatekeeping the vulnerabilities of the company. At its heart, I feel like the ideal goal of the human relation department is to propagate the cultural values of the company. This manifests itself in a pretty diverse manner – things like the hiring process, onboarding for new employees, and even team/company events are things I see human relations having a hand in establishing.

The hiring process is important in establishing a company’s culture, because it’s the first glimpse of the internal workings of the company that potential employees get to see. I’d imagine as a young business with few employees, the hiring process would be pretty ad-hoc – that’s to be expected, and new hires would realize that instantly. This is already a big filter – you’re getting people who either want to get in on the ground floor, or at least are indifferent to it. Employees who are looking for more stability or a more professional/corporate environment are already looking at the door.  Neither is inherently better than the other, but realize that how you structure your hiring directly impacts the type of people that join your work.

To me, onboarding is a top priority the moment you become bigger than a one man shop. Onboarding is really the step in which you inculcate the values of the company into your employees. No documentation?  You can probably expect the company doesn’t have well defined processes in place – operations are probably more ad-hoc. Do they give you relative freedom as a new hire, or do they set you on rails? If it’s the former, the company probably lets employees bend the rules as long as they produce. If it’s the latter, the job is more likely structured to stick with strict adherence to being by the book. I’m thinking of sales vs. accounting here.

Human relations gets a bad beat, but they have an important role in any company. Many of the qualities of good human relations can be pretty intangible, though – people recognize a good culture, or a culture they’re compatible with, but it’s hard to quantify it in business terms. If I ever start my own business, I really want to dip my toes in HR. I think culture is probably the single most important factor in any company. Culture represents a direct application of a company’s values. That matters, at least to me.

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