Humanizing Human Resources: Re-Imagining HR

“Anybody can put together a policy manual,” says Director of Staff Services Lee Scott. “What’s more important is knowing who your staff are, what they love, and what they need.”

Lee Scott had no experience in human resources prior to being hired by the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO). “I’m a farm kid from western PA,” says Lee, “I grew up taking care of cattle.” After college, he stayed busy gathering a master’s degree in divinity, a second master’s in public policy, and consulting on business strategy for one of the co-authors of The Serving Leader. Now he puts his combination of business and shepherding to good use as CCO’s first-ever Director of Staff Services.

Lee Scott was interviewed by Sam Van Eman, and the interview revised for When You Work for the Church. Used with licensing and permission from The High Calling.

Lee, let’s start with a simple question. What is HR?

HR is a lot of things to a lot of places. In general, it provides structure for an organization: benefits, conduct policy, time off for vacation or a new child. . . . It’s also the butt of a lot of jokes. Whatever it is, it functions well when it equips other parts of an organization to accomplish their tasks more efficiently.

Why did you get into it?

I got into it because Jesus called me to it. I didn’t know a job like mine even existed. The CCO didn’t want a by-the-book corporate model but a permission-giving model with someone willing to understand the organization’s culture. My favorite classes at Carnegie Mellon were on organizational behavior and management. My background in pastoral care and the job description being so different from what I expected made me think it was possible.

Speaking of different, even your title as Director of Staff Services is unusual.

As our executive vice president said, “Many HR departments live by a do-this-don’t-do-that mentality. We’re committed to empowering staff.” So that’s what I do. I serve the staff.

What makes this approach better?

If HR is going to be reimagined—restored—we need to see employees as people, not resources. At the CCO, we believe they’ve been called to this particular work. If I view my staff in this way, it changes how I understand employee relations. We’re not dealing with their employment. We’re dealing with their calling.

Our own calling as an organization is “Transforming College Students to Transform the World.” If we hope to do this, then we need a transformational staff, which means we need to develop and manage our staff toward that end.

How does that inspire you practically to do your job?

I get to collaborate in the recruiting and placement process. Because our staff are so engaged with the mission of the organization, we’ve had to orient HR around how they execute their calling. The recruiting department invites them to join us, and then, literally, hands me a track relay baton as a symbol that it’s now my job to care for them.

Considering the huge percentage of their daily lives staff spend working here, it’s an honor to encourage and equip them for ministry, Or, as Ephesians 4:12 says, “to prepare God’s people for works of service.”

One practical example of this is the CCO policy manual. A couple of years ago, I got very sick with Lyme’s Disease and called to ask about time off. You answered me and then suggested I read the employee handbook for more details. I did. The entire thing. The strange part? I normally bristle at regulations, but I couldn’t help but feel cared for after each page.

Well, I think it’s because it reflects the organization who wrote it. It matters, for example, that our CEO writes a note on the first page to set the tone. You probably also felt cared for because the code of conduct gave you confidence to know how to act. You felt cared for because it addressed every area of your life: physical, mental, your wife and kids, finances for your family in the years after you stop working, space to pursue further education.

Think about it: our staff start off with three weeks of paid vacation. My mom had to work thirty years to get there! And twelve paid sick days? There’s no federal law [in the US] for paid sick days. We exist as a community. Anybody can put together a policy manual. What’s more important is knowing who your staff are, what they love, and what they need. Rather than know that Sam works for us, I need to know who Sam is.

Maybe that was it—the human part of human resources. You even prayed for me, though I’m sure most places can’t do that.

No, but we can at least know staff names and whether they’re married and have kids. In an organization of our size (about 170), every employee deserves to be known by their HR department.

Seems like something every HR department should be doing, religious affiliation or not. Since the CCO is a Christian organization, what examples do you see it (or yourself) borrowing from the Bible?

Moses was the first HR professional. He established the first medical plan—a snake on a pole! [laughs] Nehemiah is a great metaphor for this generation of people in my position because he wasn’t trying to do something new. He worked on building the basic foundational structure to allow for other things to come later. In a similar way, we’re trying to restore what is in disrepair in the workplace.

I should clarify what I mean by structure. We want to understand the culture and context first, not adapt staff to an HR structure. Our employees are people who have a sense of calling to this work. And people have agency. They have chosen to push this rock up the hill. I want to help them. That, to me, is a new orientation for HR.

How do you hope this translates into what staff might say about your work years from now?

I think they’ll say less about me and direct their comments to their employment experience. I hope they’ll say, “They generously cared for the work I did,” and “It was a special place when it came to benefits,” and, “I worked for an organization that went above and beyond, and sought to know me.” My hope is that comments like these would result from us spending more time listening than writing policy. And if our staff thrive, the mission will get accomplished.

Your turn:
How would you describe HR in your own work context?
What would you want to add to the re-imagining described in this interview?

_____________________

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2 thoughts on “Humanizing Human Resources: Re-Imagining HR

  1. WOW indeed. Not that I’ve read a lot in this area, but one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read about HR, starting with a most compelling subject line and lead-in!

    • Thanks, Bev – when I read the original interview, I just knew that I had to share it here. I had never heard of this organization before, but I’m certainly impressed with their approach of serving and empowering their employees. There’s a lot we can learn from this example.

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