photo headshot of Dwane Lay, HR Examiner Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Dwane Lay, HR Examiner Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Anyone who has met me, even in passing, knows I’m a sucker for the current trend of converting comic books into TV shows and movies. Seeing childhood favorites like The Flash get small screen love and big screen promises fills my heart with joy. It’s also great to see characters that never spoke to me in my youth presented in ways that calls out to me as an adult. In particular, I’ve greatly enjoyed the first season of Gotham, despite it following a similar path as the dreadful Star Wars prequels. (“If you love these characters, you’ll love watching them as children!”)  I’m drawn, as usual, to anything Donal Logue does, and his work as Harvey Bullock is spot on for anyone familiar with the character.

When I think of Logue, I usually end up back with an early film, The Tao of Steve. In it, his character Dex explains to a friend his method for meeting women who are clearly out of his league. He shares three keys to his success (which, predictably, blow up in has face late in the film). And for some reason, these have been rattling around in my head while working with HR teams around the world. I think we could take a note from Dex and craft some interesting approaches to the relationship between HR and the employees they serve.

Dex’s Lesson #1:  Be Desireless.

In Dex’s world, the quickest way to scare a woman off is to show interest. Men who are interested in nothing more than a quick hook-up are, in most instances, the least likey to achieve their goal.

We’ve all been exposed to the over-eager HR type, who wants nothing more than for everyone to get along like on big happy family.  They are constantly dashing about with paper hats and birthday cakes, they host team building events that no one wants to attend, and hang motivational posters in the break room, very near the fridge. Which had BETTER BE KEPT CLEAN.

No, these people do not represent the majority of practitioners in the world. But they for some reason are allowed to be the stereotype. These people, if they even really exist, are the ones we see on sitcoms, in movies, or complained about over beers in the pub after work. And what is it people dislike about them? What is their real crime? 

They try way, way too hard.

Want to make an impact in the workplace?  Focus on the things that matter. Build a better benefits plan. Tighten up the payroll department.  Fill the jobs that are critical with talented people who care and have room to grow.  Remember that, at the core, the role of the HR team is to take care of all the things people worry about when they aren’t worrying about work.  So take care of those things because it’s your role, because it’s the right thing to do, because it makes a difference.  Not because you want to be liked.  Odds are you’ll improve overall productivity and make the team feel cared about because, ironically, you aren’t trying so hard to make them think you care.

Dex’s Lesson #2:  Be Excellent.

If you want to impress someone, do something excellent in their presence. It doesn’t matter what, according to Dex. Whatever you are excellent at, do it. (If you aren’t excellent at anything, by the way, you have much bigger problems.)

You shouldn’t expect every member of the HR team to be excellent at everything, but everyone should have one area in which they shine. It might be data analysis, finding ways to pull important information out of piles of data. It might be the natural organizer, who can pull together a team in short order to tackle a huge project and get it completed with a minimum of bruised feelings. It might be a flair for the written word that can be leveraged to build a social presence and prop up a sagging recruiting function. It doesn’t particularly matter what you are excellent at, but find that thing that ignites your passion and put it to use.

When the team is finding an outlet for their own excellence, they make an impact all around them. And when that happens, they are seen in a different light. Rather than be an administrative function or a department full of watchers, they become doers, contributors, and difference makers. There’s no better way to become valuable to the larger team than that.

Dex’s Lesson #3:  Be Gone.

The trickiest of Dex’s lessons. Once you have baited the hook, pull it from the water and go home. “We pursue that which retreats from us,” he says. “Dogs, ok, they don’t chase a rock that just sitting on the ground…they like chasing rabbits that dart in and out of bushes.”

The art of great HR is to be invisible. To make the rest of the team forget the department exists. To keep the trains running on time so smoothly, people forget there is a schedule, and just always happen to find the train waiting on them. This builds credibility, it builds trust and, in its own way, it builds dependence. The end result is a system that takes care of the behind-the-curtain concerns of employees in a quiet, discreet way.

When employees have their needs met before they are realized, a magical thing happens. They perform better. There is less strife, less stress, and more opportunities for them to be excellent in their own way. And when a need does arise, their level of confidence in the HR team to handle it graciously, efficiently and professionally is much higher. While the mantra of many HR departments is to spend time with their service groups and “be seen,” the real goal should be to “be seen as anything except the HR department.”

When you move away from the role of cheerleader and party planner, when you show your ability as a team to excel and drive business results, the rest of the team will learn to lean on you. They will come to you for help with strategy and performance, but they will also come to you for the “soft stuff” that HR owns, by reputation if nothing else. And that’s fine. Because getting people focused on their own area sometimes means being the sounding board they need and the safe place to which they can come. And oddly, you may find that those higher up on the ladder visit more often. And is there any greater dream as an HR leader to be trusted to perform important tasks while serving as confidant for other leaders?

Be desireless. Be excellent. Be gone. Sage advice from an obscure film. But sometimes the best advice comes from the most unlikely places. Next time you are struggling to feel relevant in your organization, Dex might be just the person to help find the way.

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