Culture Chat Podcast Interview with ‘HR on Purpose’ Author Steve Browne
In the latest episode of the Culture Chat podcast, I spoke with Steve Browne, vice president of HR at LaRosa's and author of the best-selling book “HR on Purpose” about the importance of having a passion for people.
The longtime HR executive and leader in the field talked about the need for intentionality in HR, how focusing on individuals is key to HR success and why we need to rethink the whole HR model.
Here a few highlights from our conversation.
Develop Deliberate People Passion
Browne says he developed his people passion very deliberately, and “HR on Purpose” advocates for those in the HR industry to be intentional about developing a passion for the people at their organization. But what does intentionality mean for HR executives? What does it look like?
“It's not a question of senior management getting on board; it's a matter of ‘what does the organization think of its people?’ And if the organization says they're pegs on a wall, or numbers on a chart, no amount of effort or intentionality will ever break through that,” Browne says.
For organizations that do have that an authentic drive to create a people-centered company culture, being passionate about people can offer differentiation from others in their industry. Browne says that when companies are more intentional about people, there’s an opportunity to practice real organizational development through learning about, caring for and nurturing their employees.
Thinking about employees individually rather than collectively is key. Organizations need to treat them as humans, as individuals, and not as a collective body of employees. “We tend to think collectively works and it never has. You can't do it. You can't sustain it,” Browne says. He says teaching companies to work with individuals on a situational basis allows him to help them tap into their people passion and to be truly forward-thinking industry leaders.
Practice People-Focused Habits
Everyone says that they have a passion for people, but there are many organizations that just pay lip service to the idea while maintaining the traditional collective model of HR. How do people identify which companies are genuine about focusing on the individual and which companies are more traditional in the HR model? What are the clues?
Browne says that paying attention to small signals can give people a sense of what kind of HR culture an organization really has. Look at “the fabric of the culture, past the posters on the wall, and the mission statement, and the values,” he says. “I think every company has those. You have to look for what's at people’s desks. What's allowed? What's not allowed? Do you see differences in how people have their personal space? If you see that, and there’s variety, there's a good chance that you can do things differently. If everything looks the same, if there's conformity, run.”
But having a genuine passion for people doesn’t just happen — it takes repetition and practice. Browne describes a development meeting with General Motors where he told executives they had to say "Hi" to every one of their team members and thank them for coming in to work for 30 days. He says simple steps like that can help executives develop people-focused habits just by being intentional about creating authentic, individual interactions.
“Repetition works. It's like any behavior, any hobby, any habit,” Browne says.
Redefine What HR Is
For Browne, the next huge step for HR is becoming more genuine and authentic. “We can't keep asking people to be genuine and authentic, if we're not genuine and authentic ourselves. And HR has to drop the veil and just be people that happen to practice HR.”
HR, though, needs to be fully integrated throughout the fabric of an organization to make this happen. Being in silos that happen to support the company isn’t enough.
“I really think that we need to get out of the support business as HR, both mentally and in practice,” Browne says. HR needs to be a resource for the company, just like purchasing or logistics are. “We're here to make the business run. That's our role. And if we don't, they should get rid of us.”