HR on Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion

HR on Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion

by Steve Browne


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Can you be in HR for more than 30 years and still be geeked about it? The answer is — YES you can!! HR leader and popular "Everyday People" blogger Steve 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. Read this book to rekindle your passion for a field that is vibrant and vital and touch the lives of everyone your encounter with HR on Purpose!

“Steve does a masterful job of not only helping us all understand what capabilities are needed to be successful into the future in our profession, but does so in a manner that leaves us excited, inspired, and ready to take action. HR on Purpose is a must-read for anyone at any point in their career in the ever-changing HR field.” —Jason Averbook, Co-founder of Infusion and former CEO, The Marcus Buckingham Company 

“Steve Browne has a passage in this book that says: ‘When you go into a grocery store, you are drawn to the things that are placed to catch your eye. Companies intentionally pay for better shelf space so that you will look at their brands in the hope that you’re more likely to buy their goods. We have to do this in HR. We have to get in the line of sight of our employees and make our goods attractive and accessible.’ I urge you to put this book at eye level in wherever you work and make sure you see this book every day. Each day, open it like an HR daily devotional and read for five minutes. It doesn’t really matter where you open the book. Just randomly open it and read. You will be a better HR professional and a better person for doing it.” —Paul Hebert, Senior Director, Solutions Architecture, Creative Group 

“As someone who has known Steve Browne for many years and considers him a friend and mentor, I’ve been suggesting for years that he write a book to share his wealth of wisdom and experiences with HR and business leaders. I’m so excited that it’s finally here! This book is a great collection of personal stories and observations, as well as great tips and advice for human resources professionals. Steve’s encouragement to engage with people, get to know them, and make HR relevant in the workplace is much needed, and his guidance and strategies come both from years of experience as a successful HR/business/community leader and from the heart. He truly cares about the future of HR and HR professionals. I strongly suggest that you read this book and highlight relevant passages so you can refer and continually challenge yourself to implement the suggestions that are offered. If you want to be encouraged, inspired, and given a road map for success as an HR professional, this book is a must-read!” —Jennifer McClure, President, Unbridled Talent LLC, and CEO, DisruptHR LLC

“Steve Browne reminds us of the rewards of a career in human resources. He shares his wisdom and experiences, and underscores the importance of focusing on others first and always. Not just because it’s a feel-good idea, but because it’s an effective way to influence business and affect the bottom line.” —Susan Meisinger, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, J.D., former CEO of SHRM and renowned columnist on HR leadership 


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781586444259
Publisher: Society For Human Resource Management
Publication date: 11/01/2017
Edition description: None
Pages: 152
Sales rank: 309,756
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

An accomplished speaker, writer, and thought leader on Human Resource Management for more than 30 years, Steve Browne is dedicated to connecting the global HR community and helping it learn and grow together. Browne has held HR roles in various industries, including manufacturing, consumer products, professional services, and restaurants.

Read an Excerpt

HR on Purpose

Developing Deliberate People Passion

By Steve Browne

Society For Human Resource Management

Copyright © 2017 Steve Browne
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-58644-425-9



BEFORE WE PROCEED any further, I have to come clean about something. I am a music freak!! I have music playing in every environment I can and for as much of the day as I can. During the 1990s MTV aired an incredible series called "MTV Unplugged." This series featured acts that were a mix of classic rock legends and artists who were popular at the time. One of my favorite episodes featured Nirvana. The band was at the height of its popularity and hearing its usually raucous and loud music stripped down made me fall for the band even more. One song the group performed was "All Apologies," and it was haunting.

Hearing Kurt Cobain sing with such pain and angst just drew me into the song. I felt the deep emotions he was trying to communicate, and it made me think of ... HR!!

If people outside of human resources described our field, they would say that we were magnificent apologists. We apologize for who we are and what we do way too often. It sounds a lot like this conversation overheard at a networking event:

"Hi, how are you?"

"Fine and you?"

"I'm good. I'm Steve and you are?"


"Nice to meet you, Melanie. Where do you work, and what do you do?"

"I work for a local manufacturer, and I'm one of their salespeople. And you?"

"I work in the restaurant industry, and I'm in human resources."

"Oh, sorry."

"It's okay. I like being in HR."

"Really? Most HR people I know don't say that."

Encouraging, isn't it? You're out trying to establish professional connections, and others view your profession as something that needs an apology. When did we allow this to happen? Which HR professionals thought that taking this approach would make their position strong either personally or professionally? I don't know if there's a "person zero" responsible for this apology movement, but more HR people have adopted this stance than have tried to dispel it.

HR is tough. There is no denying it. When you look at the breadth of the field of human resources, it's daunting. When a person is tasked with being knowledgeable in employee relations, recruiting, compensation, benefits, employment law, federal and state regulations, training, organizational development, etc., all at the same time, one can see how the job could be overwhelming. I know these tasks describe HR practitioners who are generalists, but even specialists have very broad roles that touch these same areas in some aspect on a regular basis. Where we have lost perspective is that ALL fields in business are tough.

If you asked someone in marketing to break down his or her field, you'd see that it's also filled with diversity, complexity, and depth. The difference in other fields and ours is that we have taken the stance of being a martyr who experiences untold levels of suffering to meet the common good of the people. There is one differentiator in human resources that not all other business roles have, and that is the direct interaction with people. The odd thing about this differentiator is that the people who are most often vocal and frustrated with employees in organizations work in HR!!

If this describes you, then please take this advice. If employees are a pain point or source of frustration for you professionally, then get out of human resources. It isn't the career for you.

Quit trying to tough it out because you are this administrative superstar who can make systems hum. Administration is an important facet of HR, but it is not the reason we exist. Without people we are nothing. Please note that this isn't the call for you to put the "H" back into HR. That is a popular sentiment that you'll hear speakers share during presentations or as the theme of an HR blog. It's become a catch phrase without context and a shallow self-help statement to make us feel better. Whenever I hear someone throw this out, my quick retort is "The 'H' in HR? You mean 'Hell'??"

It throws people, and I don't mean it, just as they don't actually mean what they say either. Working with people has to be more than a feel-good catch phrase. The reality that we are intimately intertwined with people is exciting, not frustrating.

It's time for you to own who you are as an HR professional. There is value in what you do for your organization and for the people who work there. Human resources brings life to a company. With that being the case, why would you ever apologize for being a part of this field?

Much of what we do hinges on two things — our perspective and our approach. So, before we move forward and dive deep into how HR can really exist for you in a fresh, vibrant, and relevant way, you need to stop being an apologist. Step back, look at what you do, and OWN it!! HR rocks on so many levels, and it needs to be expressed through you and not in spite of you.



MY HR CAREER started like most in recruiting. It's a great place to get your feet wet because you're learning the front end of the employee cycle. It's also a bit daunting because you're in the middle of making sure that the hiring managers get their positions filled on a timely basis and that the candidates have a good experience as they're being considered. I worked for a large Fortune 100 company that was extremely traditional and conservative in all of its business practices. This ran so deep that there was even an internal dictionary of acronyms to be used in all interoffice communication that was an inch thick!!

Given that it was my first HR role, I did whatever was asked of me, and I took on each opportunity with fervor. It was a bit uncomfortable for me to be in a highly specialized role because I was more comfortable having a broader scope. I was learning what it was like to work and also exploring what mattered to me personally within a human resource job. I didn't know what it meant to be an HR generalist or that this type of position even existed. I was ignorant of the power of culture in an organization because companies weren't talking about, or concerned with, culture The focus of organizations was that work was to get done, and that was it. I wasn't aware of the broader HR community or that other people around the world practiced HR.

You shouldn't be surprised by this. My first HR role was before the Internet was around, and I joined the workforce when the main measurements of your performance were that you showed up to work, didn't rock the boat, and did what you were told. Unfortunately, when I look over the work landscape currently, many of these measurements still are the drivers in many organizations.

I enjoyed my time in my first role for a while. Over time it became more and more evident that I didn't fit the corporate world. Keep in mind that this company was, and still is, incredibly successful. The reality that I didn't fit it didn't matter much to its ongoing success. I chose to leave and venture into something that I hoped would fitbetter. Never one to follow the easiest path, my next role was for an entrepreneurial startup.

Culture shock occurred literally the first day I started with this new organization. After I completed the obligatory new-hire paperwork, I had a face-to-face meeting with the company's founder and CEO. He welcomed me, and then he threw down the gauntlet.

"Steve, do you know why we hired you?"

"You hired me to take care of human resources for the company."

"No, not really."

I admit that I was confused by this. I was very excited to have an opportunity to become the HR focus for this startup. I wasn't quite sure what he expected of me, and then he hit me with a monumental challenge.

"I have an assignment for you to get you started here. You have 30 days to complete this. I want you to learn all employees in the company by name, where they work, and what they do. On the 30th day, you and I will meet here again and I'll quiz you. If you get one person wrong, you'll be fired. Do you understand the assignment?"

I gulped and said, "Yes sir," and that was the end of our meeting on my first day. I sat at the conference room table for some time trying to gauge whether this conversation really happened. He was serious. This was not some ploy or truth-or-dare scenario. He gave me an assignment, and I had a 30-day deadline. At the time of this challenge, we had a corporate office and three manufacturing locations that ran two shifts (two in Ohio and one in South Carolina) with a total of 225 employees. On top of this, I didn't have a computer at my desk, and a laptop was some mythical invention that was just starting to be a part of the business world!!

To get started, I went old school and started reading every personnel folder in the office. It took me several days just to get through this mountain of information. Then, I did something completely radical (even though I didn't know it at the time) and went to our plants to meet the employees. I met with every single person on both shifts. I wasn't able to visit the South Carolina plant within my month-long time frame, so I called the plant manager and asked him to tell me about every person that worked for him.

On the 30th day, I once again sat at the conference room table across from the president, and the quiz began:

"Okay, Steve, who is Ken?"

"Ken's my boss and your CFO. He came from Boston and a large financial firm to join you."

"That was an easy one. Who are Ron and Sam?"

"Ron is your plant manager at Homeward Way, and Sam is his assistant manager. Ron started with you right out of college as a designer, and you moved him into management. Sam runs our paint shop and has been with you since you started the company. He was one of your first employees."

"Not bad. Let's see if you really know the men. Who's Carl?"

"Carl?" He thought he had me. "Carl works the brake press on second shift. He's a little aloof. Did you know he catches mice at night and then puts them in the press?"


"Yeah, I thought it was a bit creepy and told him to stop doing it because it was a safety concern. Carl appreciated someone talking to him because he's left on his own most of the time."

And so it continued for almost two hours. The president asked me about people who were in leadership roles as well as those hired in our most remote plant within the past month. I never thought the meeting was going to end. The president finally looked up from his roster and said, "Steve, do you know why you work here now?"

I hesitated to answer because I thought I had made a mistake and was about to lose my job. He said, "You did great and got everyone right. You need to remember one thing — You are here for my people. If you EVER forget that, I don't need you."

He didn't scream this. In fact, he was very subdued. He wanted his message to sink deeply and become my philosophy as well. His employees mattered to him, and he expected his human resource person to embody that and value it as much as he did. This sentiment was never put on a wall in a beautiful frame or meant to serve as the introduction to the employee handbook. His philosophy was a reality that was to be lived, understood, and acted on.

I have never forgotten my first assignment in HR. It was daunting when I think about it even to this day. It also serves as an essential foundation for HR in its purest form. The majority of HR practitioners would not do well on this type of assignment because we have lost the focus that people matter and are the reason we even exist. We keep throwing out the catch phrase and "battle cry" to "Put the 'H' back in HR!!" To be honest, this rings hollow and smacks of some Herculean effort to be with people. Putting people first either comes naturally to you as an HR practitioner, or it's something you need to work on. In the end, my president made it crystal clear. If I didn't put people first, I wasn't needed.

Where's your focus??



I AM FORTUNATE to be the father of two incredible kids!! They are actually young adults now, but they will always be my "kids." When my wife and I became parents, we were not given a manual on how to do things right. We were thrown into the middle of new challenges and opportunities every day. We never were given training. In fact, our parents took great pride in seeing us learn on-the-job as our kids grew up. One thing we noticed was that as our kids grew older, they expected my wife and me to take sides. Inevitably, they expected that we would take THEIR side and not the side of their sibling. If my wife or I made the wrong choice, in the eyes of our kids, we'd hear (in an incredibly ear-piercing whine), "That's not fair!!"

I have a question for you: Do you know what happens when kids grow up?

When I've asked this at conferences and at forums, people have bombarded me with answers that were unfortunately negative. We often look down on those who are younger than we are. Hang onto that thought because we'll cover it later. Here's the answer to the question:

They become our employees!!

The same expectation kids have with their parents is what we face in the workplace. The added challenge to this expectation is that now everyone we come into contact with expects us to take his or her side. Managers perceive that HR would automatically support them because they're management. Employees want our support as well. Don't believe the myth that employees feel we support them first. If you asked them, the majority would think that HR supports management before them.

Employees at all levels of an organization expect that all situations involving people should be black and white with no room for anything other than a decision that can never waver. This is unrealistic. We have choices that we need to make every day in HR. Rarely, if ever, are those choices clear-cut absolutes. In practice, though, we come across as if HR is better only if it works from absolutes.

Don't believe me? Let's take a look at an area of our work that we reference probably more than any other — policies and procedures.

We love to create manuals don't we? We get a false sense of comfort that we're controlling the work environment and the performance of others by having more and more policies and procedures. This myth was ingrained in us in childhood as the most effective approach. In school you were expected to stand in lines before being released to an activity. You were not allowed to talk unless you raised your hand and were called on. Everything ran on a schedule with a start time and a stop time. Homework was a daily occurrence, and there were deadlines for projects and exams. If a pop quiz occurred, we were completely thrown because the pattern of our lives was altered.

With that being our background, it's no wonder we want to replicate that environment of structure in our workplaces. The reality of the workplace (and honestly in schools) is that it is a dynamic, ever-changing entity that can accept some forms of structure, but not absolutes. One of two things will take place if you persist in remaining steadfast on policies and procedures as your guiding standard: (a) People won't follow them because you expect the "rule" to be self-explanatory, meaning you see no need to explain the reason for the rule, or (b) you won't follow the policies and procedures in HR, or as supervisors, because you'll make exceptions. Making exceptions is natural because we want to do the right thing when it comes to working with people, so we'll bend the policy to someone's advantage if we enjoy working with the person, and we'll use it as a weapon if we don't.

(Cue the HR purists: We NEVER do that!! We treat all of our employees the same because we believe in being fair!!)

I mentioned my kids earlier. One day I was home when they both returned from school. We usually had a snack when they came home, and my daughter walked into the kitchen eyeing an open bag of Oreos. She reached inside the bag to find two cookies left. Her younger brother was tagging along and exclaimed, "I want a cookie too!!"


Excerpted from HR on Purpose by Steve Browne. Copyright © 2017 Steve Browne. Excerpted by permission of Society For Human Resource Management.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1 All Apologies,
CHAPTER 2 30 Days ... or Else,
CHAPTER 3 Versus: Choose a Side,
CHAPTER 4 Ask Me Why,
CHAPTER 5 Lava Lamps, Music, and Toys,
CHAPTER 6 Bottom-Shelf Thinking,
CHAPTER 7 Be Strategic Daily,
CHAPTER 8 All By Myself,
CHAPTER 9 Where Is He?,
CHAPTER 10 Dealing with the Dark Side,
CHAPTER 11 Removing Boulders,
CHAPTER 12 Hey, You're Different!!,
CHAPTER 13 Don't Let the Cement Dry,
CHAPTER 14 Show. Do. Review.,
CHAPTER 15 Keep It Simple,
CHAPTER 16 What About You?,
CHAPTER 17 Checkers or Chess?,
CHAPTER 18 Passion Is Not a Dirty Word,
CHAPTER 19 Be Full,
CHAPTER 20 Life vs. Function,
CHAPTER 21 Safe Haven,
CHAPTER 22 Have a Tribe,
CHAPTER 23 The Work of Networking,
About the Author,
Additional SHRM-Published Books,
SHRMStore Books Approved for Recertification Credit,

Customer Reviews