What Nurses Can Teach Us About HR (Courage and Compassion)

From the title, you might expect this to be a post about service to others (i.e., what nurses do), as an analogy for HR’s service to employees and managers.  While there are any number of comparisons between nursing and HR (perhaps fodder for future posts), my focus today is on another aspect of HR, actually: hiring the right people (and letting go of the wrong ones).

Minor Surgery, Major Comfort

I had the occasion to have a short stay in a hospital recently for minor surgery (everything went very well; thank you kindly).  As it was (fortunately) my first overnight spent in a hospital, I was keenly aware of the type of care I received.  I was struck by the fact that, to a person, everyone I came into contact with seemed incredibly “at peace” with what they were doing — i.e., caring for patients, controlling pain, prepping for surgery, etc.  I’m sure that each of the nurses, technicians, doctors, etc., had their own personal struggles and hardships that they carried into the hospital that day.  Yet, once the “lights went on” and they were interacting with patients (in this case, me), all of those struggles vanished, as they made me feel like I was their only patient, and all of their efforts were going toward meeting my needs.

It was quite a humbling experience, to be candid — i.e., to see a team of people working together, in this case to prepare for, carry out, and help me recover from, surgery.  They each seemed to go about their jobs with a certain  peacefulness — confident in their abilities, but also  confident that this was their purpose in life (i.e., they were in exactly the place that they were meant to be).  I didn’t actually ask any of them about this; it was just the feeling that emanated from them.

Connection With HR

It was wonderful it was to see individuals who were so visibly the “right fit” for their positions, people who lived out the hospital’s customer service credo of “treating patients the way they would treat a family member (or the way they would want to be treated themselves).” I don’t know anything about the hospital’s HR staff, nor about their hiring practices.  However, I can say with assurance that — at least as far as my experience went — they were doing something (or many things) right.  Sincerity and genuineness can’t be faked, I don’t believe — and these folks had it in spades.

This situation caused me to reflect on hiring processes, behavioral interviewing, and the like (an occupational hazard: always thinking about HR stuff).  There are many in the HR blogosphere who are far more qualified (from being “in the hiring trenches”  every day) than myself to opine on best recruiting practices in 2010.  Rather, my purpose is to re-emphasize the axiom that ” it’s all about bringing the right people into the organization” — i.e., qualified, talented people who believe in the organization’s mission as a core tenet of who they are as individuals.

Courage and Compassion

Let us not lose heart, despite the long road

The flip side of this is helping individuals transition out of the organization where they  are clearly not in the position (or function, or industry) where they can contribute the most.  This, of course, is easier said than done — taking  courage and steadfastness of purpose.  In the end, though, I would submit that it is ultimately the most compassionate thing we can do — i.e., freeing someone to pursue their greater purpose and contribution.

The following are a just a few instances where I helped “counsel out” someone … or wished that I had (I know that we all have our own similar lists — I’d love to hear what yours is):

  • The middle manager who hated managing (which was felt acutely by her people) — but who lit up like a Christmas tree when she talked about her former role as an individual contributor “technician”.  She was very good at what she did, and enjoyed it fully, before she was promoted to management.
  • The department manager who was a very talented artist — but who was a disaster at managing a creative department. He did it for the money, and hated every minute of it.  His behavior devolved into a highly political, “cya”, self-centered morass of passive-aggressiveness (again, greatly to the detriment of his department, and any department that touched it).

Imagine what a difference it would have made in the lives of all around him (much less his own) if he had been encouraged to follow his passion in the arts — and left the managing to others more interested and qualified.

Remember the Nurses

In many organizations, it’s easier “go along to get along” or “pass the problem along” than it is to have “difficult conversations” with managers and employees about skills, characteristics, and organizational fit.  When we’re tempted to lose heart and fear that we don’t have the strength and determination to do what’s needed to do to create the organization that our organization deserves, I encourage us to “remember the nurses.”  What better service can we provide for our employer than to find the people it needs … and to help it let go of people who aren’t able to help it (or themselves) get where we need to go?  Let us have courage, always.

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