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Step up, HR! - Suzanne Lucas [Interview]

Step up, HR! - Suzanne Lucas [Interview]

December 7, 2022
Step up, HR! - Suzanne Lucas [Interview]

About Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne is a freelance writer, who is famously known for her blogs on the EvilHRLady blog page. She is very famous for her incredible original ideas on the HR space and is recognized for putting people first in all her ideas. Her blogs get 300,000 to 500,000 hits per month and are considered one of the best sources to understand the HR world. She is a well renowned keynote speaker and has been listed as one of the most influential HR professionals, by a multitude of global organizations.

Aishwarya Jain

Step up, HR! - Suzanne Lucas [Interview]

We have the pleasure of welcoming Suzanne Lucas today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of peopleHum -  peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.


Welcome Suzanne, we are thrilled to have you. 


Oh, my goodness. You made me sound something better than I am


But thank you I'm really happy to be here.


It's really our pleasure. 

So, Suzanne, why do you call yourself the evil HR Lady? What is this about? 


Well, it's because most people don't have good feelings about their human resource department, we’re the ones that are there to tell you when you're getting fired and we're the ones to put you on an important improvement plan and we're the ones that you blame when you don't get a big raise because your manager says, well, HR wouldn't let me give you a bigger raise. Well, we don't really care. Hold on to that finance, the budget. 

But we're the ones that get the blame. No one ever says well, the finance department said we couldn't do this. They're like, well, HR says, so we kind of have this bad reputation because of the things we do for our job. 

Then also, a lot of HR has made some bad choices and the way many companies handle recruiting really reflects badly on human resources. And of course, there's people that say Recruiters are a part of the HR but to employees, they are the face of HR.

"Recruiters are a part of the HR but to employees, they are the face of HR"

Recruiting is something that we do poorly. As a general rule, we treat candidates poorly, and so all those things together, when people think of HR, they think it’s evil so there you go, that’s me.


That is really interesting the way you think about it, it kind of stands out from the crowd, and it's really interesting to think of it like that, and maybe you are right. You know, a lot of organizations actually do not pay so much attention to the HR folks, and that's a pity, but I think they're here to change that. People like you are here to change that. 

And I even heard a Ted talk that you delivered, which is about ‘Forget talent, get to work’ there is a common opinion that people with natural talent have more probability to perform high, and the rest of them are just going to be ordinary performers and follow instructions plainly. What do you have to say about this?


I strongly disagree I mean, talent is helpful, right? If you have natural talents in something, it makes it a lot easier for you to achieve in that area. But nobody has the talent to do organic chemistry. In order to do organic chemistry, you have to learn it. You have to work. And you may be talented, that you can learn a little bit faster than somebody else, but you have to do the work. 

And it's really that work that's important. I have a tremendous musical talent. I'm a very talented pianist. But I am a terrible pianist because why? I didn't ever practice as a child.

And since I stopped taking lessons at 16 my skills have just dropped off. You know, the other day I pulled out a piece of music that I played for a piano recital when I was 12 and I couldn't play it, I got embarrassed like ‘Okay, yeah, I can't play the piece I played at 12’ I didn't lose any of my talents, but I stopped developing it, and so When we focus so much on talent and not on skill-building, we end up with someone that's mediocre.

“When we focus so much on talent and not on skill-building, we end up with someone that's mediocre.”


Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. 

So you're saying that, basically, people have to practice their talent. They have to kind of, keep on up-skilling and re-skilling, in this process, what do you think the HR is supposed to do? How are they supposed to play a role of an enabler?


HR needs to focus on the training and development aspect. If you're focused just on talent and you start thinking that, ‘Okay, I need to have someone in here that's perfect for the role’. It prevents you from actually hiring people that are really good at the job or that people who could be really good at it. So much in business you can't learn in school. 

You have to learn it on the job. And it's not because schools are bad. It's just the way life is, and so you need to be open to the training and development. And from an HR standpoint, a lot of training and development falls under HR in the first place, but the other thing is that we need to work with managers to help them understand You're not gonna always be able to hire that unicorn, but you can always develop a unicorn yourself.

“You're not gonna always be able to hire that unicorn, but you can always develop a unicorn yourself.”

So what you look for is somebody that has the desire to learn and the ability to learn. That sometimes means hiring someone that doesn't have every qualification that you think you need.

The question is, ‘Can they learn it?’ And it's often a lot faster to train and develop someone than it is to search out for that one candidate that knows all 43 different skills that you think you need for this position. Hire someone that has 25 of those and have them learn the remaining ones. 


Yeah, that makes sense.  

And I think especially now with the current situation, you know a lot of people are moving to be more people-centric vs business-centric before, that might be a new normal. What's your take on that? 


Well, I hope that that continues. One of my big fear with this worldwide shutdown is that a lot of people have lost their jobs. And anytime people lose their jobs, that's tragic. 

But it also puts companies back in this idea of you should be grateful that you have a job instead of we should be grateful that you're willing to work for us, because, I mean, even if you want to take a look at Jeff Bezos, if everybody at Amazon said screw you, we are out of here, he doesn't have a business anymore.

I mean, he's got enough money in the bank but a lot of his money is in Amazon stock. It would just go away. He doesn't have anything if people aren't willing to work for him. 

When unemployment is high, businesses tend to treat candidates very poorly. They treat employees very poorly because I could do whatever I want to you because I know you can't get a better job. Before this started, at least in the U. S, unemployment was really low, and companies were starting to make these changes and now I'm afraid that we're going to go back.

I hope that we don't. I hope that this is a blip. And everyone goes back to saying, ‘Oh, yeah, our people are our most important asset’ but I'm nervous. 


Yes, I think there is a good reason to be nervous because we just don't know what's going to come ahead of this. We just have no idea what we're supposed to brace ourselves for. 

A lot of people now are remote working, right? So how do you think HR can help in this? Or is it just HR not just HR, but leaders that are supposed to kind of take care of their teams. But what can the HR do to help with people engagement right now?


Right now is so unusual, and it's really a time when HR needs to speak up and advocate for people. You read stories of managers that want people to leave their cameras on all day so that they can make sure that they're sitting at their desks.

I'm gonna say, right now, any manager that does that should be fired 100%. You manage people on what they do, not how long they sit in front of their computer screen. 

For some people, you know, if you're working at home and you have enough space and you don't have kids that need care because all the child care is closed. What are you gonna do with your toddler? I mean, I don't have toddlers.

I have teenagers and they're still annoying to be home when I'm trying to work, you know, this is the time when HR needs to step in and say absolutely not, absolutely not that is so damaging to people. This is the time when HR needs to advocate for flexibility.

“This is the time when HR needs to advocate for flexibility.”

People will say, ‘Well, everybody has more time now that they don't have to commute to the office’ ‘Yeah, but everybody is stressed out. Everybody's got responsibilities now that they didn't have before'

You may feel really lucky to have a job, but your spouse has lost their job if you as I said, if you have kids out of school, they're out of daycare and they are home.

A lot of parents are trying to homeschool, work full time, run a household, and I don't know about other families but my house is a disaster all the time because everyone is always here.

And so I'm constantly cleaning and constantly telling my kids to clean, which they love. You know, there's all of this other stuff going on, and everybody needs to be compassionate towards everybody else. 

And that's where HR can really step in and say to leadership, ‘Hey, you know, you need to have compassion for your employees, as long as they are producing whatever it is, then let them have their own flexibility’ this is you know, normally, I would say, ‘If you work from home, you have to have child care, you have to have a dedicated workspace.

That's not something that is practical. At the moment when you had 24-hour notice that you're gonna work at home, you couldn't go out in addition to your house, you know, you couldn't hire a nanny to take care of your kids. Maybe you had a desk in your bedroom that your spouse is also using. And so one of you has got to sit at the kitchen table and you know it's just a disaster. 

HR really needs to help managers understand that. And then with employees, I think it's really important for HR to be reaching out and saying, ‘Are you okay?’ because a lot of people are not OK, people have lost loved ones to this horrible disease.

So many people have lost jobs and so even though your job may be secure, your spouse's may not, your sister's may not, your brother's may not, your neighbour, your kid, your whatever, all these people that you care about, everybody's under this incredible stress. 

So if HR could reach out a little bit, I saw the other day about a company that just sent a Chocolate Easter egg to everybody. And that's such a tiny thing. But things like that can really make an employee feel. ‘OK, you're thinking about me, you care about me' and at this time, that's what employees really need.


Absolutely. You are so correct. I think there are so many people just trying to multitask, take care of household chores, plus take care of reporting on time.

And at this time we need as much help as we can and HR can really help bridge that gap, and they need to constantly communicate with the employees and even with the managers, as to how they must go about the situation because it's just so unique I think even HR is not trained to handle such situations.


This is new for everybody. This is so not normal. And we're all learning as we go. And we're all making mistakes as we go, like I said, with the manager that wants to keep the video camera on, they need someone to say, ‘No, that's a bad idea’ because if they're used to stepping out of their office and being able to see everybody in their little cubes or maybe have an open office, which I hate, where you could just see everybody. That's how you're used to saying ‘Okay, are you on task, or are you on task?’

It's a complete mind shift to just look at ‘Okay, what product am I getting at the end of the day?’ ‘Where's my productivity?’ and you need someone just to speak up and so always HR is a function that needs to take risks and have a lot of guts.

“HR is a function that needs to take risks and have a lot of guts.”

It's hard to stand up to your CEO or your senior vice president. You need to do it. Now they can say no, they can override you because HR is never the final decision maker but you need to stand up because your job is to protect the company. 

And if the employees have bad feelings towards the management, you're not protecting the company. You're helping the company to destroy itself. So stand up and say, ‘Hey, no, that's a bad idea’, and there's plenty of resources out there that you can use for backup.

You don't have to just say because I said so. There's a lot of stuff out there that you could find that will back everything that I'm saying up.


Absolutely. I think a little bit of courage will go a long way right now, because it's ridiculous. How can you just stay on camera for such a long time? That's just ridiculous and it needs to be called out.

And are there some kind of resources or some kind of training that's kind of available to HR right now may be to help them cope up with the situation and to pay that forward to managers? 


I don't know of specific training, but I will tell you that people are really addressing this in a big way within the HR community and one of the places that you can really find help on this is, I have a Facebook group called ‘Evil HR Lady’ and anybody on Facebook is welcome to join. And it's full of HR people who are all working together to help us through this, and you can ask your question and people come and they will answer. 

People will jump in and give you ideas, give you links to things. And it's a really lovely community of HR people working together and you'll find that in other HR forums around the Internet that will do that for you right now, and all that stuff is free. 

People are so willing to help. So willing to help. It just makes me so happy. When I see, someone will post the question on my Facebook group and I don't have time to answer it and I'll come back an hour later and there are 20 responses with people from all over saying, here, this is what we're doing.

This is what we're doing. This is how it worked for us. This is all just people being kind. There's so much kindness in the world. I'm very pleased with that. 


Well, that's amazing and the HR community is really what we need right now to help each other out. And it's really heartwarming to see that people are reaching out to each other and they are helping them out. This is really the way forward and it's amazing what you're doing.


Yeah, and you can do the same thing on LinkedIn. If you post the question on LinkedIn, people will jump in as well, people are anxious to help other people. I think that's amazing. 


Yeah, that really is amazing. And you know, it's free you just have to post it on social media and you will get help from around the world for free. Isn't that amazing?


It's so amazing. And I mean certainly, there are resources that you can pay and there are consultants, I'm not telling you not to hire someone cause you know, that's how I make my living, hire me, but this is all new that we are dealing with. 

Nobody's ever been dealing with this worldwide shutdown before, so just ask, go out and ask. And here's the important part. If someone else asks and you have an answer jump in and answer because it goes both ways.

If you're just taking, take, take, take, take, take, take that doesn't make you part of the community. But if you're willing to share what you know and I'm willing to share what I know we can all help each other through this. 

Here's another secret. This is how networking works. And you can build these relationships right now that maybe will get you your dream job in five years because you'll be like, ‘Oh, yeah’ you know the hiring manager be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I had this real problem back during the pandemic and Suzanne, helped me out.

She is someone we can trust. Let's bring her in for the interview’, and that's like the selfish side of things. But So often people think of networking as something that you do when you're looking for a job. Networking is about building relationships.

"So often people think of networking as something that you do when you're looking for a job. Networking is about building relationships."

Now is a really good time for the HR community to build relationships because we all need help. So let's give it to other people and get help from other people.


Absolutely. That is so amazing. It is definitely time to build relationships because, I mean, we're all seeking help. And this would be a great way to just network and connect with other people in your domain and to gain more knowledge, gain more expertise, and handle problem situations that you never dealt with.

Yeah, it's a great opportunity and I also think that because we are being more empathetic towards people we are showing more empathy. Now, even,

With people who kind of have disabilities, we're trying to be, more inclusive of them is what we hear their stories around. So what is your opinion on, inclusion and workplaces? Do you think that it's going to change now? Are people going to see a different version of an inclusive workplace?


I am hoping that there's a lot of positive things that come out of this. One of the things that are going to come out of this is now when managers say ‘No, I'm sorry you can't work from home your job won’t allow that’, even though you need it for health reasons, you could say back. ‘Well, I worked from home just fine all of March, April and May’ and hopefully no more, and I was able to do my job. 

So now you can't say that I can't do it and in the US, that will back up a lot of laws, because you'll be able to argue successfully, this is a reasonable accommodation. Hopefully, that will help it all over. The thing that scares me is that companies are gonna be very concerned about the continual spread of this virus and so are they gonna be worried about people with health problems coming to work and I don't want to hire rather than working from home.

Are you willing to hire people that have asthma because they're at higher risk? Are you gonna be willing to hire people that are older because they're at higher risk and you don't want them? Do you get sick so we will not hire you, and that is something that's very concerning and hopefully we'll get a vaccine that will work really great, and this won't be an issue. 

But until we have that, our company's going to treat people with a disability, as not hirable because they're concerned about the medical impact of this Coronavirus.


Yeah, absolutely that's a very valid point to share. 

And what we also see now with the increase in the millennial workforce, there are going to be a lot of graduates that will want to apply for jobs. There will be unemployment, a surge in the gig economy is also on the rise. How do you think that this would affect organization systems in the future? 


I don't think anything is ever going to be the same, and actually, I was reading some things about the Black plague in Europe in the 1400s and how it changed everything, of course, then 70% of the population died, and we're not looking at anything like that here, but we've all seen how things can be done differently, so this is going to change a lot.

And one of the jokes I saw on Facebook, a good HR joke is, who was the driving force between in your digital transformation option- 


B) Chief Operating Officer 

C) Covid19 

That's what it is. Suddenly we had to change and instantly we had to change. And these changes, they're gonna last forever.

With these people graduating and I feel so bad for them, you worked really hard and we just pat them on their back and say, 'Sorry, you're not able to find a job, go back and live with your mom’ ‘Oh, you can't, travel’, all right I mean, it's just awful, but they're gonna enter into a very different world than the people who graduated in 2019 entered into, and education is one of those places that will never, ever be the same ever. 

I mean, just in my own family, my teenage daughter, she's in high school, went to a straight online model where they have the same classes every day at the same time where it's all via Zoom.

She loves it. She loves it, so she is planning for the next school year to continue that and not go back to her regular school. But to do an online school. We would have never in a 1,000,000 years considered that before this I would have been like, ‘No, that's a ridiculous thing’, she loves it. 

You're gonna see a lot of things like that within education. All of a sudden, we didn't need the classroom for everything that we thought needed, because you're gonna see a lot of that in businesses in call centers. 

Think about the expense of running a call center that now you can say. For three months, we had everybody in our call center work from home. Do we really need to maintain the building, the lights, the infrastructure, to have 300 people sitting in the same room, or do we send them all to work from home? And that also changes some people's options.

I've worked at home off and on for the past 16 years. I love it. I'm a bit of an introvert. I'm good with it. 

A lot of people don't like it, and they're also finding out that they don't like it, and they like not having to commute, because who in their right mind likes commuting? Nobody. But they may say, you know what? I'm going to stop fighting for the telecommuting, right?

I like going to the office. I like having a set place different from where I eat and sleep, and you're gonna also find people that are like, you know what I have learned during this that my family is the most important thing to me. 

I'm not willing to work 80 hours a week anymore. And How these changes will manifest is gonna really depend on how things go. But definitely nothing is ever going to be the same.

“How these changes will manifest is gonna really depend on how things go. But definitely nothing is ever going to be the same.”


Yes, absolutely nothing I think radical things come out of a crisis and suddenly, you know, all the lag in technology that we were having has suddenly been kind of pushed, and we all have to adapt to technology. So it's just, you know, some are just meant to be.

We just moved so much into the future and we are doing so many things that we did not want to do and now we have more choices. So I agree with you. It's all going to change.


It’s kind of exciting. I mean, it's tragic that this is why it's changing, but it's kind of exciting to see change.


Yeah, it's sad that it takes a crisis to kind of make these radical changes, but it's really true. That's how it's been for years, I think, and absolutely. Let's see what comes out of this.

So finally, you know, to wrap this interview up, I'm just gonna ask you the last question. If you have any advice or any other important soundbites that you'd like to leave our viewers with.


I would just say keep on going, help as many people as you can if you feel terrible and you're like, ‘Oh, this is awful and I'm so depressed’ that's okay, too. This is not normal. There's nothing abnormal about it. And it's okay to feel rotten, from time to time. But when you focus on, what can you do to help somebody else? As you start helping other people, you tend to start feeling better, then it allows you to accomplish the things that you need.


That is great advice. Thank you so much for those lovely words. I had a very engaging conversation, so thank you for sharing your views with us. 


It's been a lot of experience. Thank you so much for having me. I've really enjoyed it.

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