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Article by: John Bernatovicz — View more articles by John Bernatovicz

Posted on: November 17, 2020

HR Like a Boss: George Sample

What happens when a computer scientist ventures into the world of HR? You get George Sample, an HR expert who has made a name for himself through his business mindset, propensity for basketball, dancing at DisruptHR, and as Cleveland SHRM's President Elect. 

JOHN BERNATOVICZ: Welcome to the HR Like a Boss video series; if it resonates with you, please consider liking commenting, subscribing, and sharing with a friendYou'll find social media links in the description and where to listen to the complete podcast interview. I've embarked on a journey to get to know amazingly awesome HR and business professionals. These conversations are the foundation for my book on what it takes to do her like a boss. On today's episode, I'm joined by my friend George Sample. So, George, how would you describe the purpose of Human Resources?

GEORGE SAMPLE:I saw how much of an impact HR done well can have on an organization. The purpose of Human Resources is to make sure the people in your organization are in a position to deliver the best possible value for whatever your business mission is. So, depending on what your business or organization is trying to accomplish, you are probably going to practice HR in a little bit different way; you are going to look at leadership development, succession planning, compensation, etc. For us as HR, being able to help support, train, and guide the employees with the organization to do their jobs in the best possible way is a key function for any organization you’re in.

JOHN: What do you enjoy the most about working in HR?

GEORGE: The ability to impact careers and how appreciative people are when you are able to impact their career in a positive way. Be it helping them understand how to improve their resume, coaching managers through different things, mentoring through difficult conversations, or accountability for even network better within organizations. Assisting people to understand the political piece is real; you have to navigate that if you want to ascend within organizations. That piece of really being able to help people career-wise is why I stayed in, and it continues to be some of the most rewarding work I get to do. 

JOHN: How do you describe success in what you do?

GEORGE: When you see the people that you’ve developed get business results, there is a pride in saying, “hey, I was a part of that.” That person who was in one part of the business thinks differently about their career. I mean I have people who I’ve seen their careers absolutely blossom because I’ve had the conversations and their skillset to help them see themselves in a different light. And then take on opportunities that were a little out of their wheelhouse or their comfort zone, but that has been able to add value to them and value to the organization.

So, if I continue to do that and build on more and more people to impact because each person I see takes those steps, it is more points on the scoreboard for folks I’ve been able to help career-wise to where they need to go. And also, organizations benefit from having people unlocked to their full potential.

JOHN: What characteristics make for a stand-out HR professional? 

GEORGE:1. Communication: Communication is so key in so many different arenas. The way that people communicate from the ground up of how you come across in an interview to how much credibility you have in a room. A lot of that boils down to your ability to communicate. Both verbally, through email, through whatever medium you are communicating. The cadence of communication, tone, pitch, body language, social cues for different settings… that is a huge piece. I touched on the political nature of organizations as well. If you have two people in an organization, there are going to be politics in that organization. It is a part of it. And being able to communicate effectively is a huge part of it.
2. Influence: There are some really good resources. There is a book called Influencer by Vitalsmarts. You build your ability to influence is going to be huge for you as an HR professional. One of my directors said, “We have this HR gig; we are really just internal consultants.” We are helping support the business. Giving suggestions of how they should do what they do and when they should do it. But we have to build the credibility and the ability to influence them to take the steps and go forward.
3. Judgement: As you get further up in your HR career, you can find all of the technical stuff in a book. You get your SHRM certification; you know everything that I know about HR. I would never say I know more about HR from a technical standpoint from anyone else. But it is that judgment piece that really distinguishes leaders, from the rest of the pack, and those who go higher in the HR, it is all a grey area. It goes from the lower end of the organization of HR being black and white to as you get to the top of the HR pyramid and everything that comes to you is grey. Because if it was black and white, someone lower in the organization would have handled it already. By the time it gets to you it is cloudy. So, you having judgment as an HR professional is a determining factor for how far you can go as an HR professional.

JOHN: Why do you think some people dislike HR? 

GEORGE: From being too rigid to the policy, they don’t answer quickly enough, all of these different things. A lot of it boils down to, well, judgment and customer service if I were to put those in two buckets. They would be the key things that people don’t like about HR.
This policy doesn’t make sense; why do we have this policy? Or, I didn’t like the way this person interacted with me. Or, I applied for a job and never heard back; they don’t communicate—things like that.
So between having discernment with policies and having the customer service piece they are the two biggest buckets I would categorize things in for why folks sometimes don’t like HR.

JOHN: Have you worked with professionals who worked in HR but struggled with their role or the profession? If so, why?

GEORGE: There has to be an alignment between the person’s personality type and the type of role that they are in. HR has plenty of roles that are very cut and dry, for example, compensation where you are mainly focused on numbers, where if you were in employee relations that judgment starts to come in a lot you know because of situations where you are dealing with the interactions of individuals or you are doing an investigation to figure out where does the truth really lie between people who are telling different stories. So, depending on where you are and the role you are playing in HR, if your personality type isn’t a good match for the type of role you are in, that’s where I’ve seen trouble with HR professionals. Some roles require you to be very much detail-oriented, if you are not that, you’re going to struggle. You can’t have a compensation person who is not detail-oriented because I need to make sure the check looks the way a check is supposed to look. The skillset and personality type have to match the role that you’re in as an HR professional.

John: How do you get a seat at the table, and also once you get it, how do you keep it?

GEORGE: Getting the seat at the table, it’s first understanding what the needs of the business are. You can’t come at the business with a book of HR. They have to know that you understand what they are trying to accomplish as an organization and not just here goes section 17.b-.02 of the policy manual. So that is getting a seat at the table, understanding the business and bringing solutions for problems that are there. Because that is what we’re here for. Hey, we’re not producing enough in this business line, maybe you don’t have the right skill sets. Where do we go to get those skill sets? Or, maybe our managerial talent isn’t getting the production out of the professional staff that we need to get. Maybe there is a gap there in regards to their competencies, how do build their competencies. Or we have certain folks we know if they walk out the door, we’re screwed. How does HR really think about creating succession pipelines for them. In order to get a seat at the table, HR has to be actively bringing those types of ideas to the leadership of the organizations, helping them see what that value is. Because there is no business that runs without people, HR should be tied in from a very strategic standpoint, not just the transactional things. But strategically, how do you get the best out of that human capital and make sure that you’re bringing your fresh ideas that could help the organization’s bottom line for the organization.

Now, once you’ve done those things and you have your seat at the table, actually contribute. Not just that you speak up where there is a violation or something of that nature. It is understanding the business and knowing that we thought through everything from a human capital standpoint that is going to help us get to the business goals. So, I think from both perspectives of how you get your seat at the table and how you stay? You have to add business value. Your key is to add business value.

JOHN: If you could, what advice would you give yourself (knowing what you know now) when you first started your career in Human Resources? 

GEORGE: Be a better steward of my time. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted on the most trivial of pursuits. That would be the key thing. It doesn’t even matter if you have found your calling. It’s just that whatever you are currently focused on, you know, being all the way focused on that thing. Sometimes people shift, shift careers, I mean you are talking to an HR guy who was very much writing computer code. So, sometimes things shift. But whatever your doing is investing your time wisely and being all in for what you’re doing until you decide to change directions.

That ability to focus on a few things that will add significant value to my life is something I have really been much more cognizant about lately.

JOHN: How would you describe someone that does “HR Like a Boss?” 

GEORGE: They take ownership. There is no, that’s someone else’s issue, that’s someone else’s problem, they take ownership of making sure that their organization is positioned for success. To the best of their ability at all times. That’s my definition.