Humans of HR is a bi-monthly blog series featuring human resources thought leaders committed to making work more human.
John Baldino may have founded Humareso – a full-service HR consulting firm with corporate offices in New Jersey – only seven years ago, but he has been involved in HR for 28 years. He began his career doing tactical training for a regional retailer, which he says, “solidified my professional investment in people.” He expanded beyond learning and development as the years went on, taking positions that gave him opportunities to grow into leadership development, compliance and administration, and strategic partnerships.
For our first Humans of HR interview of the new decade, he sat down with us to chat about the gaps he sees in HR, why we shouldn’t frown upon “boomerang employees,” and how encouraging critical thought can improve our workplaces – and the world.
Workhuman: Can you tell us about what you do at Humareso?
John: My role is more entangled than most. I still am involved with certain engagement work depending on the organization and their needs. Typically, I have more strategic involvement: workforce planning, executive coaching, organizational development. Mostly, I help organizations look at what scaling means: How do you build? How do you develop people? How do you help people see that values matter to the mission and vision of an organization?
Of course, concurrently, I'm running Humareso and overseeing the awesome staff that work here. I bounce ideas with them and do analysis to determine what would work best for certain clients. It's a few things to keep in the air, plates spinning.
Workhuman: How did you come to found Humareso?
John: I saw a gap for organizations who need support that they would not necessarily hire someone full time to do. In many ways, organizations with 50-200 employees need to know the same things as organizations with 20,000 employees, but the skill set that's necessary to help that company be competitive is not at the ready. I saw an opportunity to help those midsize (and some small) organizations scale, build, and compete with human capital considerations they wouldn't have ready access to. And that has worked very well for us.
What has been a surprise to me is how many organizations of all sizes reach out and ask for support. I mean, organizations with tens of thousands of employees say, ‘We'd love to have you come in and work with us for three months on building a team of folks to put into the succession plan pipeline.’ I would think you've got enough people in-house, how could nobody know how to do these things? It turns out, sometimes they need someone in-between to help deliver a message. I'm a dad of three, and my kids are older – 20, 18, and 16. There are times they have come home and shared something they perceive as revolutionary, and my wife and I will look at each other – we've told them that at least 112 times – but because they heard it from somebody else, it sticks.
Workhuman: With all this time in HR and building up people, what would you say working human means to you now in 2020?
John: I am acutely aware of how tender humanity is. In business, there's a tenderness because retention continues to be a mystery to a number of organizations. I don't care what size they are, they struggle with it. How do you treat your organization tenderly with people who can really make a huge impact, but maybe only for a few years before they move on to the next opportunity of interest? It could be easy for those organizations to say, ‘I'm going to suck the life out of you because loyalty doesn't exist.’ That's the wrong response. There's a need for the business community to be more open to investing in humans who will work hard and thoughtfully for those few years, and who may even come back.
That whole boomerang-employee concept is a new phenomenon, and organizations have to set themselves up for success in responding to those opportunities. I do want someone to leave for a couple of years if it's necessary to learn different skills that I might not be able to give them access to today.
When they desire to come back and bring those skill sets, I'm helping them to work more human. I'm helping them to take all of who they are and find ways to apply it back to a place where they feel safe – worthy of investing.
The other piece of it is, people want to be affirmed – and not in a, ‘You've been here two years, let's have cake’ kind of deal. I can appreciate cake, like anybody else, but that isn't real recognition. It falls short of recognizing someone for the contribution that they've made. Length of service is not always a reason to celebrate.
When someone is there for 10 years, sometimes you think, ‘I wish they would go.’ It’s like a bad marriage. That person who has been difficult for the organization, though without giving them a reason to terminate, should not be celebrated in the same way as someone who has been making a healthy contribution. You don't want those to be received on an equal playing field.
Building infrastructure for people to pay attention to the contributions that others are making is paramount to treating people as humans and then allowing them to work in that context. From a business standpoint, we've got to be open to crossing the lines a little bit into what we would classically see as ‘personal’ – things like esteem and worth, concepts of forgiveness and value. They matter in the workplace, and we shouldn't be afraid
Forgiveness, for example, is a concept that sounds very disconnected to work. But because people haven't been taught how to forgive and what forgiveness really means, we're distracted by long-term opposition thinking.
This leads to a siloed approach to work – to things that are systemically unhealthy. If we step back and value people as people and help humanity to be more forgiving, it will go far to help us not fall into the traps that keep us separate, keep us non-creative, non-innovative.
I'm absolutely not saying everyone has to walk around with a box of tissues. That's not the same thing. As a people, we struggle with pendulum-swinging responses. When we see something that we don't think is right, we wrap it all up in something extreme and then swing the pendulum hard the other way – and we forget there's a whole area we're swinging past on our way to either side. So when I talk about that concept of forgiveness, I’m not talking about therapy and I’m also not talking about stoicism. There is an in-between. You’ve got to tap into it in a way that keeps with your mission, vision, and values.
Workhuman: How do you find that in-between?
John: There are times executive coaching feels therapeutic, but it is not therapy. It’s OK to travel the road that feels therapeutic – that release is going to help you get to the heart of the matter. Over the course of a couple of years, I worked with a VP who was set to take over the company when his uncle retired. We walked through quite a bit that was professionally healthy but also personally relieving. We would have coaching sessions where – to the point of tears – he was contending with his personal definition of self and the expectation of management. It was being a stymie to the innovative and creative outlets that he was looking to explore to scale the organization, double it in size, and go 1.5x further in geography and influence.
Once we exposed the things that were a negative take, we were able to build upon the skill sets he had but were not being directed correctly. We also helped with communication. He took the reins a few years back – this story is five or six years old at this point – and the organization has met the objectives he had and beyond. He's come into his own and is seen as a leader and visionary, which may not have been the initial impression that folks had. It was so rewarding to see him succeed at that level and be recognized, internally and externally.
There are lots of folks doing great work like that. The Humans of HR you feature here are doing that kind of work, and it's awesome that these stories are being told because people who are reading need to know that there's a path. Sometimes it may look dark, but raise your hand and ask for a path. Start by asking the question. Say, ‘I need help,’ or, ‘I'm confident in where I am, but I know there's more, and I don't know how to get to the more. How do I get to the more?’ Ask.
Workhuman: What do you feel is still the greatest need in terms of making work a better place?
John: We need to do a better job of encouraging critical thought so people have an outlet to be even more human than they know they can be. What we're seeing from a talent standpoint is a lack of encouragement toward critical-thinking modalities. We relegate people into roles where we give them our expectation of work and want it to not veer too far off course.
The problem with that is the mode of work becomes transactional rather than transformative. And even though we may desire it to be transformative, our infrastructure may keep us at a transactional framework. Critical thought is best experienced where people have the freedom to test theory.
I know there's risk involved with that, and here's the HR guy saying, ‘Push the envelope.’ But there has to be the opportunity for someone to exercise critical thought: ‘What is it that I'm observing? What's my hypothesis? As a result of that hypothesis, what are the ways in which I could test it? Once I test it, how do I look at the results? Does it cause me to go back to my hypothesis and change?’ Very scientific-method kind of stuff, but that is a path to help people learn how to think critically. We don't do that enough.
Workhuman: Do you think that falls to learning and development, or should it be infused throughout the organization?
John: Yes and yes. Recognize what you see they know and then provide tools for them to build upon that. This can fall to those responsible for overall L&D, but managers need to know how to do it. The fallacy that managers would just know how to get the most out of their people – ‘Here they are, good luck’ – is so silly, but so systemic.
When I stand in a garage, I'm not a car. Just because you put me in that space doesn't make me something else. So, if you move this person from a cubicle to an office and say, ‘You're a manager,’ they are still the person they were yesterday. So, take the time to set them up for success continually, don’t just give them a one-time management training.
Workhuman: Do you have any hopes for the future of HR?
John: I’ve already said a lot about the future of work, but the one term I want to make sure is thrown in is hopeful. I don't mean hopeful because it's so desperate right now. I mean hopeful because there's still more to go, and that should excite people.
Workhuman: What are you most looking forward to at Workhuman® Live 2020 in San Antonio?
John: To be in a place where there are people who are of like mind in how they are approaching how humans at work ought to be. It's so nice, it's so refreshing, it's so comforting to walk up to someone and start chatting about these issues and people get excited and find life in the conversation. It’s great to be with people who see the bigger picture. I love being there for that.
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