Harvey Specter on human resources

It is challenging to make an attempt at wit and entertainment after the news of the brazen act of violence in Nice, France during a Bastille Day celebration last week. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Nice, France as they deal with this horrific tragedy.    Suits

Season 6 of Suits aired on USA Network on July 13 with Mike Ross in prison, serving his two-year sentence as a consequence of working as an associate for one of Manhattan’s top law firms, despite not being an admitted attorney; having never passed the bar, gone to law school or even college. Strike that…he somehow took and passed the bar, but never went to law school, did not complete college and was obviously not admitted to practice law.

For those of you “non-Suiters,” the show involves one of Manhattan’s most successful lawyers, Harvey Specter, at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious law firms. Due to his confidence and incredible charm, Harvey is commonly referred to by his law firm and its clients as the firm’s best “closer” for his inexplicable ability to close deals. As part of his promotion from junior partner to senior partner, Harvey is permitted to hire a protégé associate from Harvard and is sent off to interview the applicants in a hotel conference room.

The only applicant who impresses Harvey is Mike Ross, who admitted he wasn’t a lawyer or even a college graduate, but touted himself as a genius with legal principles not only memorized but also understood. Ross never applied for the job. Instead, he ended up in the interview room while on foot running from the police during a sting operation resulting from his  attempt to deliver a suitcase full of marijuana and earn enough money to keep his grandmother in a private nursing home.

Ross immediately proves to have the book smarts of Clarence Darrow and the street smarts of Charles Ponzi. Harvey and Mike spend their days winning all of their cases while keeping up their charade at all costs. While the show is focused on this deception and Ross’ story, the star of the show is Harveyan overly confident, outside-the-box-thinking zealot. His witty one-liners make him impossible not to idolize.

While we can all use a little “Harvey Specter” in our lives because this is a human resources blog, I take this opportunity to address my top Harvey Specter HR takeaways and also provide him with some cautionary legal advice.

1. “My respect isn’t demanded, it’s earned.”

While employers can mandate that their employees listen to them and follow their lawful instructions, supervisors cannot make their subordinates respect them. Respect is something that supervisors earn from treating employees fairly. While human resources professionals can be seen as tough in their roles as negotiators or discipliners, when they believe they have been treated fairly, it lends credibility to these processes.

2. “First impressions last. You start behind the eight ball, you’ll never get in front.”

It is no secret that first impressions are key to applicants during the interview process; however, they are equally as important to an employee’s perception of its employer. Therefore, it is necessary for managers or human resources professionals not to be late to meetings with new hires and to take the time to explain important policies, procedures, and employee benefits. Additionally, offer letters and employee handbooks should be written in a manner that strikes the right balance between setting forth expectations/avoiding contractual guarantees and setting the appropriate positive tone about the Company.

3. “I don’t play the odds, I play the man.”

While, I’m not sure that this is truly what Harvey meant, it is important for managers and human resources professionals to be perceptive in their interactions with employees. Empathy and emotional intelligence are key attributes for managers and human resources professionals so that (1) employees feel they can openly discuss their employment related concerns (which can include sensitive medical issues) in a safe, welcoming environment and (2) human resources and managers have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in their workplaces so that they can nip issues in the bud and avoid possible legal claims and poor morale.

Thank you, Harvey, for imparting your words of wisdom. Notwithstanding, I have been watching you over the last five seasons and I have some advice for you.

1. “Sorry, I can’t hear you over how awesome I am.”

While I commend your confidence, the appropriate amount of self-reflection and humility is important for all effective managers. If we are caught up in ego, we will not be paying attention to those around us in order to assess whether there are any issues blooming in the workplace. Also, often the “my way or the highway” approach tends to decrease employee morale and lead to employment related claims.

2. “Loyalty is a two-way street. If I’m asking for it from you, then you’re getting it from me.”

While employers can expect employees not to breach their fiduciary duty to their employers, they cannot expect “loyalty” at all costs. Nearly all employment related statutes contain anti-retaliation provisions, which prohibit taking adverse action on the basis of engaging in protected activity, which includes filing internal complaints and lawsuits.

3. “I refuse to answer that on the grounds that I don’t want to.”

Sometimes, Harvey, managers are required to answer questionsand sometimes tough ones. This response would not be an appropriate one.

In close, Harvey, I would be remiss if I did not mention that hiring someone who you know does not have the requisite degree and certification that state law mandates for the position is probably not the best choice for your organization and could lead to claims of fraud, negligent hiring and negligent supervision and could lead to your disbarment. In light of the class action lawsuit that was recently filed against your firm, you probably know that by now. I have a sneaking suspicion that you will land on your feet, because after all, as you say it: “Anyone can do [your] job, but no one can be [you].” Also, and most importantly, the show is fiction.