What happens when you put a scientist and someone with a passion for HR together? You get someone like Laura Hamill, PhD, the Chief People Officer and Founder of the Limeade Institute. In today’s edition of “Faces of HR,” we learn more about Laura, how she approaches engagement and culture, and what she thinks HR needs to stop worrying about and what it should focus on instead.
What makes you excited about being in HR?
“I didn’t start out in HR. I have two titles: I am the Chief People Officer, but I’m also the Chief Science officer, and I have these two roles. What gets me excited is how we are using more science in what we do and how the field has evolved. I was an organizational psychologist, which is psychology applied to work, and always focused on the measurement of things like employee engagement, organizational culture, and how you can actually measure and improve in those areas.
“Work could be so much better; there are so many things that happen at work where the employer doesn’t follow through or doesn’t care about its employees. The employer world has so much more work to do to create great places to work. What I get excited about is people who are buying into the idea that if you authentically care about your employees, it’s better for the employee[s], but it’s also better for your business. It’s neat to see that evolution. I’ve seen, in my time in HR, just a really interesting evolution of starting to be more human at work. And that is really encouraging to me.
“The paradigm we have created around work is so outdated, and it’s based on things that were built around factory work from a long time ago with very different models. When you dig into modern HR practices, they are really not that far removed from those practices. I feel lucky that we can push on those existing practices and ask, ‘Do we really have to do it that way?’ I’ve been fortunate to be able to try new things—they don’t always work—but to really question a lot of the existing practices in HR. That goes hand in hand with why I love HR now is because it’s getting better. It’s changing. People are opening their minds up to different paradigms and different ways of thinking about what work has to be, pushing on the status quo.
“If you want your employees to come every single day and be committed and go above and beyond, you can’t expect them to sustain that over time if you don’t care about them just as much.”
How did you get from science to this blend of HR and science?
“When I had my own consulting practice, I got very excited about science and research, and my customers didn’t understand what I was talking about. So, I had to translate it and help them understand it. It has been an evolution. It’s really hard—when you get results from a study, there are caveats, and it doesn’t always fit into three bullet points. And it’s not always easy for people to understand. It’s been a journey for me to get to the point where I try to simplify and create something that is easy for people to understand but still make sure we don’t lose the science part of it. I also do a lot of presentations, and to see people’s reactions when they understand something is very powerful. When they get their heads wrapped around it, it has given me a lot of motivation.”
How do you personally approach getting through to the employee who isn’t interested in getting excited about work?
“Sometimes, storytelling works. People have ways of thinking about their own lives and the purpose and meaning they have in their lives. What I will say to them is, ‘You come to this place every single day. Wouldn’t it be neat if you actually wanted to come here? And wouldn’t it be neat if most days, you were kind of excited about the people you work with and what you got to do? This is your life, after all.’
“I tell stories about what happened to me. I was working at a large technology company, and I really got to the spot where I didn’t want to go to work every day. It was kind of political and backstabbing, and I would rather do anything than go there. I was positive and excited about things in general but didn’t want to go there. I was also going through a lot in my life. I began to realize that I was having an impact on my family; they were seeing me not living my best life.
“When I tell that story, [it shows] that sometimes, even if someone has the best job on paper, [he or she] can be miserable. I wasn’t going to put up with that. I wasn’t going to waste my life on that. I tell people that, and it helps. Maybe it doesn’t solve every problem. But if you don’t love your job, do something about it. Work on it. Tell someone. Or, if you can’t, leave. We can’t go through life just hoping it will get better or being miserable. It’s just not worth it.”
Is there something that you wish HR would stop worrying about?
“There are so many things. I wish there was less reaction and more proactivity. I get why we are that way, the circumstances, and how people are just drowning in the things that are coming after them. But every time I talk to an HR leader or organization, I see so many missed opportunities to be strategic and to do the stuff that matters the most. And I think we just say yes to too many things and feel a sense of responsibility for things that are very in the near term and urgent, but we miss the stuff that’s the most important. How can HR actually be driving the culture of the organizations? And most of the time, when I talk to HR leaders, they want to do that work so bad—they really know they should be—but they are drowning in all the logistical stuff they have to do in HR.”
What is something that HR is not getting excited enough about?
“Culture would be the one that I feel the strongest about. Either HR just accepts its current culture and points out its values on a website, or it’s someone else’s job. Or, they say they have to wait until we can find a new HR leader. But culture is really a construct that requires a lot of aligning. In order for organizations to know what to focus on, they have to have an understanding of what they are trying to create. What’s the intention that they have about what it’s like to work here? What are the norms and values that live in an organization?
“I wish HR would get more excited about that and spend more time and effort on it. When I’ve seen companies do it right, it is so powerful and so amazing to see how much traction they can get. Even just the hesitancy of HR people to talk to people to get them to do things. It’s your job; you are supposed to be telling them what role leaders need to play and how you need their involvement. Why wouldn’t you go ask them to have a talk about culture with employees? Why wouldn’t you ask them to get their view on culture and see what they have to work on? You have to work with them in a partnership. There are some companies that do it right, but a lot of times, I’m seeing a hesitancy to get leaders to do their jobs and do the things we need them to do.”