Rekindle Your Passion for HR

by Matt Davis, from

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Can you be in HR for more than 30 years and still be geeked about it? According to Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, author of the best-selling "HR on Purpose!!: Developing Deliberate People Passion" (SHRM, 2017), the answer is an unequivocal "Yes, you can!!" In "HR on Purpose," Browne takes a fresh look at HR through an engaging assortment of real-life examples, insights and epiphanies and encourages practitioners to drop the preconceptions of what HR should be and instead look to what HR could be.

Browne recently answered questions from HR Magazine's Book Blog about improving workplace culture, handling negative people and finding your tribe.

How can HR professionals be "intentionally strategic"?
HR pros keep thinking that being "strategic" requires an anointing from senior management to gain entrance into a mythical kingdom where they escape the drudgery and mundane existence of their current role to think and plan strategically. This has been such a miss by HR that it's embarrassing. We can practice our roles more strategically when facing challenges or situations by taking these three simple steps:

  • Step away. We get caught in the weeds of our jobs too easily. And, if we were honest with ourselves, we like the weeds because we feel that if we struggle, we have value. It just isn't true. HR needs to step out of the weeds and look around to see what the landscape of the situation/project is. Taking time to reflect and evaluate is needed all the time.
  • Breathe and assess. We tend to See, React, Overcompensate, Attack and Pray. Then we end up picking up pieces we never had to shatter in the first place. Nothing is so critical or urgent that you can't pause to clear your head. Once you have clarity, assess what's in front of you and think about how any action will affect others. Think things through before you act.
  • Blaze a new path. Being strategic is taking what you do and looking at the most effective way to proceed for both short-term and long-term results. Look for, and test, alternative approaches to situations/projects. Resist the pull to follow the tried-and-true approach just because it's what you're used to doing. You have a brilliant mind filled with ideas. Use it!
What's one thing HR professionals can do today to improve their culture?
Be genuine. Everyone puts on a work face and spends so much time posturing and maneuvering that we often end up presenting a false persona. If people would stop trying to act a "certain way" instead of embracing what makes them authentic, the workplace would shine. It's increasingly missing in today's workplace culture, and I'd love to see this change.

How did you find your tribe? What can HR professionals do to network better?
I found my tribe by tying others together as a bridge builder. I find out a nugget or two about the folks I meet, and then I pull others together like a giant matching game. It's like "Matt, have you met Lauren? Lauren, have you met Matt? Did you both know that you're in HR in a manufacturing environment? I bet you have some common things you could share with each other." Then I move to the next person. When you step in as the person willing to take away the anxiety of people meeting each other, connections occur. It seems simple, but you're fighting against people's fear of uncertainty. It's going against the flow. I dig doing that!

What's your advice for HR professionals on handling negative people?
Understand that you need to get out of the "have to" mentality. We should "want to" work with people. If they become a burden because they're negative, then we only sink. It sounds Utopian, but I think you need to see the best in people even though they could possibly disappoint you in the future. People respond based on how they're seen and treated. If I view you positively and treat you that way, you're more likely to be positive in response. It's not true all the time, but it does work more often than not.

Checkers or Chess?
Chess, without a doubt. When you approach HR as a chess player, you're being strategic. You see all the moving parts in play, anticipate potential obstacles and plan responses to the best of your ability. Checkers takes on a start-and-stop approach and, to me, relies largely on reacting to the last move.

Think of it this way: If your day is fraught with problems, then problems will dominate your perspective and you will likely feel your sole purpose is to fix the incessant swell of problems that overtake you like waves. That's playing checkers in your job. It's exhausting and limiting.

Playing chess doesn't mean you're stuck in a perpetual "what if" state. It means you can calmly evaluate situations case by case and respond knowing another move is pending. The continuum of play in chess more accurately reflects how organizations really move and the ability to observe the entire playing field, rather than executing a series of knee-jerk reactions that checkers calls for.
Matt Davis manages SHRM book publishing.

HR on Purpose is now available at and Amazon.

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