Tuesday in the Trenches: A Groovy Kind of Love

This week’s #TrenchHR post is from Robin Schooling (@RobinSchooling).  Robin, an SPHR, is VP of Human Resources with a statewide organization in Louisiana and has over 20 years HR management experience in various industries including health care, banking and manufacturing. Robin is a Past President of the Greater Baton Rouge SHRM chapter and serves as Professional Development Coordinator on the Louisiana SHRM State Council, and as VP Membership with ASTD Baton Rouge. She is a board member of the Louisiana Business Leadership Network (LBLN), a non-profit network of businesses which values persons with disabilities as customers and employees. She encourages everyone to cheer for the Saints in the NFC Championship game…..Who Dat!

When I entered the HR profession circa 1988, we wore jackets with huge shoulder pads and acid-washed denim.   SHRM was soon to change its name from ASPA and the word “personnel” was being banished from the nameplates, office directories and (ideally) the vocabulary of folks the world over.  We were working to change the perception of HR from paper-pushing-party-planners to organizational partners.

We KNEW we had the insight and knowledge to transform our organizations by harnessing the power of people’s capabilities.


Most HR professionals believe that people are amazing, and nowhere is individuality more apparent than when viewed through our eyes.  We see people at their absolute best and their absolute worst; they can be frustrating, maddening, or inspiring.  We laugh with them and we laugh at them.  Gather any group of HR professionals together and invariably we talk “shop.” We don’t talk about 5500’s, FMLA or the latest software conversion – we talk about applicants, employees, managers and executives.  We chuckle and find solace in sharing our observations and reflecting upon the absurdities of human interactions.

Deep down, of course, HR professionals know that what makes people unique is what makes them fascinating.  We enjoy finding out about people’s personal stories, motivations, and their goals and aspirations (or lack thereof).  This, I believe, is what draws many of us to HR – tapping into the strengths of individuals by helping clear obstacles and creating the path for their journeys.

While I don’t want to hand-hold, babysit, or do for employees – I DO want to support them.


But in order to free up our time to support employees and lead them to personal and organizational excellence, we must become better at tackling the un-sexy aspects of the HR function – process improvement to increase quality and reduce costs.   Learning, understanding and applying some basic process improvement techniques can lead to dramatic results at the departmental and organizational levels.

Reflecting back on the low-tech era, my day was filled with laborious HR tasks:   I created a monthly employee newsletter using a typewriter, clip art book, and a glue stick.  I shared a PC with 6 other HR employees (MS-DOS, thank you very much). I made 6 copies of every single Employee Action Form for my co-workers.    When personnel files were destroyed, I typed up Employee Record cards which were stored in a recipe-card box. I planned the picnic.

And since it’s easy to take the path of least resistance, many HR Departments TO THIS DAY utilize 15-20 year old processes.  Just as with any business discipline, we must continuously strive for improvement, efficiency, quality and value.  We must banish phrases such as “we’ve always done it that way” and “we have to do it that way for the auditors” (my personal favorite).


Continuous improvement can directly lead to HR enhancement in providing value to the organization.  With every HR process that is eliminated, streamlined or re-engineered, we free up time to spend on talent management, employee development and working with other departments to meet organizational goals.

I would rather spend my time brainstorming with the VP of Sales regarding how to grow revenue than making extra copies of the medical insurance invoice in case the auditors want them.

9 Responses to Tuesday in the Trenches: A Groovy Kind of Love
  1. shennee
    January 19, 2010 | 6:01 am

    BRAVO Robin-I am a firm believer that going back to the “basics” is a great routine. I believe it is possible to integrate the latest in technology, but “old school” practices rule!
    Really getting in touch with the people who work with you, and for you is so important. Putting the “Human” back In Human Resources is so important!

  2. Trish McFarlane
    January 19, 2010 | 7:32 am

    Kudos to you Charlie for encouraging more trench HR pros to write!

    Robin, fantastic job. When you talk about hearing about people’s lives, motivations, etc., I was nodding my head thinking “yes, that’s it! That’s why I got into HR.” And your point is SO valid about many HR departments needing to really focus on process improvement. I think we talk a good game about wanting to be involved in all these business conversations, but we (the collective majority of true HR pros) do not know how to go through a really process improvement exercise. So, in addition to knowing about finance, marketing, internal and external communications, I’m adding process improvement to my list. Excellent post!

  3. John Jorgensen
    January 19, 2010 | 10:33 am

    Robin, excellent post. Great insight on where HR has been and where “we” still need to go. Love to hear from the trenches. Go Saints, beat the Vi-Queens.

    One thing, I never minded doing picnic planning, as long as I wasn’t required to do it. A little fun on the job never hurt.

    Who dat?

  4. thehrd
    January 19, 2010 | 10:52 am

    You don’t get to play until you can do the basics right. The number of times I have said this to HR professionals. Well said.

  5. Kent Blumberg
    January 19, 2010 | 1:53 pm

    Brava Robin! It’s not sexy, but the day-to-day “blocking and tackling” of HR is what sets us up for the big touchdown plays. The better we are at creating effective, efficient, value-added HR processes, the better we get to be at the more strategic aspects of HR.


  6. Robin S
    January 20, 2010 | 9:16 am

    Thanks everyone for taking to the time to read and comment. I believe so strongly in this concept because I have been in situations where I felt I was just “spinning my wheels” to get through the unwieldy-yet-fixable established processes. And what fun is THAT? (Answer = none)

  7. Charlie Judy
    January 20, 2010 | 10:17 am

    Robin, thanks so much for volunteering to be the innaugural “Tuesday in the Trenches” post…you reinforced how important it is for us to get more perspective from on-the-ground and you did so with flare. Please encourage your #TrenchHR colleagues to do the same – would love to try and get a weekly post. I’m looking forward to continued contact…and insights.

  8. Marianne Frazee
    January 20, 2010 | 2:11 pm

    Robin-as always, you are “right on target” – there is a reason that the word “human” is in human resources-it’s the human aspect that fascinates & attracts the people in this field, not the minutiae that has been created by the numerous laws, court rulings, compliance issues, etc…and you are one of those unique individuals that have the passion to look at the human side of this very challenging profession!

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