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Small Victories – It’s Why I Do What I Do

This blog post was contributed by John Martin, associate director of client services at Princeton University and chair and treasurer of the CUPA-HR Eastern Region board of directors.

I recently did some training for one of my client groups on campus and as we were preparing to begin, I heard one of the employees say to another, “So who is this Martin guy?” The other responded, “He’s in HR … but he’s not an a-hole.”

I thought, “How wonderful … after all these years, I’m finally validated!”

Isn’t it amazing how people perceive our work and our chosen profession? We’ve been hated by CEOs in Fast Company magazine, Forbes wanted to fire us, and Salon said that HR doesn’t give a damn. Consultants are constantly saying we should be outsourced, that we are an expense and not a revenue generator. And think of how we’ve been portrayed in movies and pop culture – as inept, uncaring or just plain goofy, from the two Bobs in “Office Space” to poor Toby in “The Office” and George Clooney’s cold and manipulative character Ryan Bingham in “Up in the Air.” If you are a “Person of Interest” fan like I am, you know the corrupt cops and politicians were code-named HR.

So there’s all this negativity swirling around us and there we are in our offices, getting yelled at by employees for siding with management or ragged on by senior managers for always taking the employee’s point of view. We find ourselves dealing with countless problems and issues on the regular and trying (sometimes desperately) to keep our heads above water, all while dealing with 100+ e-mails a day and six hours of meetings (which we may or may not know what they’re actually about/what purpose they serve or what homework we’ll walk away with). And as you well know from reading the CUPA-HR eNews and alerts from our government relations team, our own government is drowning us in alphabet soup (Title IX, ACA, NLRB, FLSA).

You finally say, “Enough!” and go for a walk on campus (probably on your way to one of those meetings). But once outside, you feel that vibe. You feel the energy of students heading to class, you see professors looking at their textbooks or laptops one more time as they walk into their classroom building, you give a wave to staff members you know. And then it happens – that one event that reminds you why you are here. I call them small victories.

It’s the staff member who comes up to you and says “thank you” for helping with her leave of absence questions. It’s the senior leader who tells you that he was glad he followed your advice because his employee is doing much better now. It’s the dean you’ve been trying to meet with who tells you she is looking forward to working with you. Or it’s the colleague who lets you know how much he appreciated your coaching in preparing for a particularly difficult conversation.

So whether big victories or small, hopefully they give you, like they do me, some balance against all you are dealing with and bring you back to why you chose to be in human resources in the first place.

Don’t let anyone convince you that we should be outsourced, blown up, hated or fired. HR should be encouraged, validated, appreciated and celebrated, because what we do makes an impact EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

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  • Kartha Heinz

    Well said, John! So true and a great reminder for us on days when the challenges seem too tall. It’s absolutely about those individual moments of making a difference for that one person. Here’s to “Small Victories!”

  • Larry Robertson

    Great blog, John!

  • Rachel Green

    Thank for this. Much needed today and very on point!

  • Susanna Hollnsteiner

    I totally agree. It’s not often HR gets a thank you but when it does happen, it makes the work all worth it.

  • D Hopwood

    Hey John, all true. And what work doesn’t have its trials and tribulations? As a recovering corporate HR exec, on balance I feel fortunate to have had the experiences worldwide that my profession afforded. When I’m confronted with whining HR staff (“Why don’t we have a seat at the table?”; “What aren’t we invited to strategic discussions?”), my counsel is that they have to earn respect and the right to contribute the old fashioned way, through smart, insightful, strategic consultative advice to their internal customers. And if they can’t handle that challenge, or if the conditions are unacceptable, then they need to either find an employer that does value their contributions, or ‘change their major’!

  • Mark Coldren

    John – great thoughts. You are a class act and a pro. Pros always look for ways to reframe and inspire themselves and those around you. You are a great leader in the association that many of us look to learn from – I know I do. Wonderful job at the conference – I’m so glad you shared your opening comments with everyone here. It started my CUPA-HR conference experience out on a positive and “proud to be in higher ed” note! Thanks!

  • Kristi Yowell

    John – you knocked it out of the park at this year’s conference. Your comments and insight were refreshing and honest. I know they certainly resonated well with me and gave me just the perspective I needed to head into the conference. Thank you for representing CUPA-HR and us HR professionals so positively!

  • Carolyn Knight-Cole

    Excellent opening John! I believe we all can relate to your comments. I for one know that it is all worth it when someone lets you know that you helped or made a difference!
    BTW, the conference was great! You’re the best! Thank you! Carolyn Knight-Cole