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

Posted on: November 12, 2020

HR Like a Boss: Kris Dunn

Episode seven is a big one! Joining John Bernatovicz in the HR Like a Boss interview (Zoom) room is legendary Kris Dunn. He's HR Famous (along with Tim Sackett and Jessica Lee), he's an HR Capitalist with a Fistful of Talent, and he's a passionate father. If you're curious about the career advice he gives his own kids, check out the (mostly) unedited podcast

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 Kris Dunn Kris is a CHRO at Kinetics, a dad, and a big-time basketball junkie because I've been to a Cavs game with him when LeBron was here, so that was a fun time. He also founded HR Capitalist and Fistful of Talent and is the author of Nine Faces of HRSo Kris, welcome to the show 

KRIS DUNN: Hey, thanks for having me, John, um wow, like flashback to going to the Cavs game. Like we were gods. You had great seats we were like seven or eight rows up, and it was unbelievable thank you again for that. 

JOHN: Yes, I think we had a little less gray hair back then; at least I know I did, and LeBron was something else. I remember that game and time. There was a lot of energy in the building every single game. Unfortunately, we have the exact opposite now um because our team isn't very good but  

KRIS: Well, you got a title out of it, and it was an unbelievable title. You know I'm out of the Birmingham Atlanta area. I'm a Hawks fan. We saw the Hawks that night when they were a 60-win team, and of course, they just got dismantled. I think that night and also in the playoffs that year just systematically dismantled by the LeBron led Cavs.  

JOHN: Yeah, he's something else, and I think maybe for another podcast, we can talk about the G.O.A.T. conversation. I think every title he gets closer to that comparison with Michael Jordan. I think I think it's fair and fitting. 

KRIS: I do as well.

JOHN: So for those who don't know you, Kris, maybe if you don't mind sharing a little bit about you and what you're working on currently 

KRIS: Yeah, so the elevator pitch is I'm a long time HR pro. Big companies early in my career, Fortune 500'sventure-backed firms kind of in the middle part of my career, I guess like 05 to 2010 and then in 2010, I exited Corporate America. I'm the HR leader at a company called Kinetics, but I'm also an investor, so I'm one of two owners at Kinetics, and we're an RPO recruiting firm. I'd always enjoyed recruiting as much as anything in the HR stack, so I found a great partner, a lady by the name of Shannon Russo, and I've been  a part of building that company over the last decade. It's been fun to dig into recruiting. I also have gotten a chance to do some really cool stuff by building a recruitment marketing practice and created a leadership series called the boss leadership series manager training, so I get to do a lot of things. I'm just incredibly blessed yeah 

JOHN: Good for you, fantastic. Well, I usually get things kicked off, and one of the cool things about you writing your book is that you came and presented to our crew of about 100-plus people on the Nine Faces of HR. Frankly, that was a motivation and the genesis of the HR Like a Boss concept. With some inspiration and leadership and kind of a push in the back by a couple of friends here, I am talking to great people about content that hopefully will resonate with the HR community. With that in mind, I'll ask the first high-level, strategic question. How would you describe the purpose of human resources? 

KRIS: Well, it seems like a loaded question these days. I'll try not to stub my toe. You know, I think great HR and the purpose of HR is you're gonna have like one foot on both sides of the fence. You have to help the business get great results, but while you do that, you have to do it in a way that's incredibly people friendly and progressive, and you've got to help individuals get results in your company as well. I think if you lose sight of either one of those areas, helping individuals get results and also helping the company get great results, I think that's where people get into trouble. I also think that's where HR pros become average, so I think the purpose of HR is really to make sure that you're doing both those things helping a company get great results and helping individuals who are ever in front of you on the given day get great results and helping them achieve their goals  

JOHN: So what do you think gets in the way? What's the barrier to balance? I try to think of the word harmony. You're in the aisle between employer and employees, so what are the barriers in the way of HR being able to achieve that balance? 

KRIS:  Yeah, I mean there's a lot there, right I think I'll use the loaded word these days; I think what gets in the way is bias, I think bias for I've got to be all about the company and the company first last and always you know there's a bias. If you have a bias where you forget about the company and you just you know your empathy for the employees that you're trying to help overrun you  that can be harmful as well. So I think what gets in the way is just a bias for one or the other and not understanding that you don't have a choice. If you want to be a great HR, pro you've got to shoot it right down the middle and it's possible it's just more art than it is science and it takes a lot of work, and there's going to be good days and bad days  

You know, I've got a son in college in an engineering program and he's all these advanced calculus courses and he's feeling average. I always tell him,  "hey you know what like what you don't understand is that you're in the big bad world now and there are wins and losses every day. When you're in the professional realm right there's wins and losses." You have to remain like really balanced about it. The other night I sent him like a  to some research and the average record of a wild card team in the MLB playoffs is like 90 and 72. You know you hit two 240 in the major leagues batting average you're a bomb. You hit 300 you're in the hall of fame so you fail seven out of ten times and you're in the hall of fame so 

 I think the other thing, John, I would say is that people will probably talk about this a little bit I think HR people limit themselves a little bit. They don't always have their eye on what's next enough because they're comfortable in a certain area that they may feel is their strongest area, their strongest specialty, and with that, they're not consistently stretching themselves to get better and be involved in things where they can learn.

John: That's precisely right. It's funny you mentioned that. I was just talking to somebody earlier today and they talked about their younger self, and they suggested good advice to your son and those listening. The advice is a lot of times you feel like you have to prove yourself with you know showing off your knowledge and your expertise, but you don't have enough experience. So a little dose of humility and listening with empathy. People understand that you're not the young hotshot trying to make an impression and talk over everybody you're just trying to observe and see what's going on and do your job everyday kind of one step at a time so right sound advice.

So is there a suggestion you have to to help people remove or attack that bias? 

KRIS: I would say the most successful HR people I know really view their careers like a portfolio. So if you think about the world of HR that we all live in, you know at the base level there’s this level of transactions. There’s this level of stuff that has to happen to make the buses of a company run on time. I think the best HR people I know are the folks who are career-minded enough so there is a selfish angle to this. They’re career-minded enough to always have projects going,  they’re trying to develop their portfolio of things that they’ve done, and when they develop that portfolio they view the world in a way that they can add value. In the world of HR, the right project that have unbelievable impact for the company, but at the same time you’re doing that it should have unbelievable impact for the employees. For example if you’re rolling out a new performance strategy, and notice I didn’t see performance review, I said strategy because it’s holistic. That should help the company get great results and should also help the majority of employees get better feedback from the people they rely on. I gotta have two or three things in my portfolio that are gonna be advantageous for me because I built something and if you do that in the right way I think you can find both sides of that fence perfectly. 

JOHN: Do you think to that point Kris are there easy wins simple places that that an HR person can play that middle. Are there one or two others you could think of that may fall into that? 

KRIS: Well you know it's like a great thing that I've done a lot of work at Kinetics. I think somebody should always about what they're best at and what they're most interested in. So I think some of this follows passion. For example someone might dig in on the benefit side, they might go hard on compensation in a way that could have value for both those parties one of the things that would be on my mind for the average HR manager. So what can I do in a quick lunch and learn, what can I do from a training perspective, not to spend thousands of dollars on an outside provider, but what can I do based on what I know. It's important to make those managers better and if you make the managers better, you get better performance for the company. If the managers can have the most critical conversations in a more employee-friendly, results-oriented way that maximizes the employee and then of course the employee wins too because now the sudden they've got a more progressive manager that like actually seems like they get it  

JOHN: Seems pretty simple because I know the the the logic behind it. The thing that you read as to why people leave a company is they don't get along or don't like their manager right and HR unfortunately is brought into that "you don't like your manager" conversation. So it's not simple. It sounds simple when you say it out loud but when you're dealing with people and some of those managers may not be equipped to to provide performance related feedback or can't provide constructive criticism in a way so it comes across as belittling. 

KRIS:  Yeah and all you're doing I just did a speaking engagement earlier today. Online of course. So we were talking about manager skills and you know to your point you know those engagements can go horribly wrong. They're bad for the employee. That's bad for the company. I think managers have their own cultural gravity. We talk a lot about culture but if you and I are both effective managers working for the same company, unless we interact a lot we probably have different ways of doing it and that's okay. You know we just want to have some overlap right in terms of the way we view the world you can get to it differently. I can get to it a different way. The right HR person is there to say,  "let me give you some ideas and then I want you to go be  transparent  within reason and deliver in the framework of this really simple conversation." So you're trying to migrate managers that aren't very good to being okay and you're trying to migrate the okay managers to actually be pretty good just with a few simple lightweight tools.

JOHN: Yeah, that's great. Yeah, performance work on those managers those are two critical ways the simple wins. This question may resonate with you a little bit more now you have a son that's kind of trying to figure out the real world and kind of face with those wins and losses. I know you gave some counsel on that but if you could go back to a younger Kris Dunn, what advice would you give that young man then knowing what you know now.

KRIS: Yeah this is a great question. I would say like for me individually,  I would have  either started my own company or found a partner earlier in my career because I have a little bit of an entrepreneurial vein. So for me individually, I would go back to myself and say get on your own earlier in probably in your early 30s rather than your early 40s. That would have been the change for me. I think you know for my son and for anybody else the the generic advice I would give is do your research and it's more important that you connect with the right person that's really focused on your growth. You may think I've got to go to work for Google or Microsoft, I get to go work for these tech companies, but it's really more about the people you work with early and finding people that are uniquely invested in your development. That's really what is the rocket ship for your career. You know you could go to a great company and be with with somebody that really doesn't care. The the result of that is you're probably still going to be great but it's going to take you longer to get there versus somebody that's really focused on your development. Having the right person in your corner can accelerate your growth and kind of stretch you and challenge you. That's the type of person you want to look for. Ask a couple simple questions in the interview process. 

JOHN: It's interesting you say because it reminds me when I was first starting my career, I looked for people that I wanted my career to look like. Then I found people in that fit personality-wise and  were interested in trying to help me out. I look back to say the few mentors I have in my life that are still a part of me and my success um what they look like so that's pretty cool.

KRIS: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's the key. I like how you put it. You want to find people who have the career you want to the extent you know that at an early stage in your life, and you know part of this is networking too. The other thing I would give the younger version of myself is to work on more networking. It's like having some type of early career brand about what you want to do and then not being afraid to network. I never turn down a student or an early career person that says "hey I love what you've done. I'd like if you have 15 minutes. I'd like to connect and ask you some questions." I never turn a young person down. Well I turn down the person down that's like my age and not because I'm a bad person but only because it's usually right after I've accepted a LinkedIn invite from them and they're trying to sell me something. 

JOHN: I hear you.  Keep that in mind for anybody watching. How to sell to Kris Dunn: don't like or connect on LinkedIn and follow up with a phone call  

KRIS: Yeah, like get to me before you connect on LinkedIn. Just find my email address and email me. I’m not hard to find.   

JOHN:  I know you have had a great influence on many people in HR, have an awesome career invested in it, and write about it constantly, and I know you do training which has the word boss in it, so I think you might be as knowledgeable and skilled and prepared to answer this question of "how would you describe someone that does HR like a boss?"

KRIS: You know it's a great question. I thought about it before before I got on our session. I think you know somebody that's doing HR like a boss because they are someone who is trusted and sought out by many different people of different career levels. So I think you know you're doing HR like a boss. You don't have to do HR like a boss my way or John's way, but I think you know that you're doing it right when people from all walks of life all functional areas reach out to you for your counsel. They trust you enough to reach out and get your take on something. You know you're really doing HR like a boss when employees at the ground level seek you out to ask you quick questions. It doesn't have to be like super formal, but also managers seek you out for your counsel on for for a situation they're dealing with before something becomes bad. And if you go all the way back to the way I described great HR pros, it'you've got a foot in both camps and you're comfortable in that space. You're doing it like a boss when entry-level employees seek you out because they've had exposure to you and they trust you. If managers,  directors,  VPs, and executives also seek you out, you're getting that from both sides. Whatever you're doing keep doing it because you're doing HR like a boss  

JOHN: That's awesome. Yeah, you talked about that at the beginning about the balance between the employee and the employer. Walso talked about as a quick recap you use the word portfolio, which I liked. It's a record of the successes you've had. We know we're going to make mistakes, we're going to strike out, we're going to lose games, but we continue to learn from those experiences you mentionedLet's focus on the manager as a younger Kris Dunn. Maybe that entrepreneurial spirit would have come out sooner, and we would have networked in a different way to get to know as many people as possible, so Kris, you're awesome. I appreciate you being on the show, and thank you for checking out today's episode. I hope everyone enjoyed it. Please like, comment, subscribe and share with a friend. Until next time let's continue to aspire to do amazingly awesome HR.