My Top Ten Renegades of HR

Image from moviepilot.com

I was recently asked to describe my style of HR and I said, “I’m the opposite of Toby Flenderson- I’m competent and compliant as a professional, but my style is to shake things up, to know the culture by being in it, to blend science and art – I’m a renegade”.

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The dictionary definition of renegade is quite harsh though, to be sure: 1) a person who deserts and betrays an organization, country, or set of principles, additionally, 2) a person who behaves in a rebelliously unconventional manner- the second might be more fitting.  And at times I do feel like the antithesis of “best practice”, employee handbook, cookie-cutter HR.

You know what I’m talking about, the job in every company that takes flak for everything people disdain about office life, e.g., mandatory sexual harassment training, policy and procedure memos, safety compliance videos… and anything else that reeks of bland, dull, monotonous boredom.  Of course sexual harassment is a big deal, and staying compliant with regulations, keeping accurate documentation, and maintaining a clear and current set of policies and procedures are all imperatively necessary duties of HR.  However, the discipline of Human Resources has grown out of its administrative roots, and now has a bigger role in the strategic leadership for organizations (a seat at “the table” is the oft-used expression).

Further, HR isn’t the department you need when you hit fifty employees, and it’s much more valuable than simply processing payroll and administering benefits(as big PEOs usually position such services).  Startups companies with as few as 3-5 founders now bring a People Ops leader into the fold, because competition for talent is fierce, and scaling company growth at the inception of a company is especially important, as those hires set the climate or culture to a large degree.  You definitely want an expert in communication, psychology, management, or law weighing in on these important decisions.

And if you’re not working in a startup, you can still shake things up in your organization.  Become the culture expert if you’re not that person already and use your knowledge of motivation and engagement to implement something new and exciting for your team.  Think outside of the box, e.g., having a creative writing instructor provide a workshop to inspire your people to be more creative and autonomous in their communications with clients.

I get a lot of inspiration for my renegade thinking from the HR pros listed below, so I decided to put together an actual list and share it.  And in great marketing form, it’s a Top Ten – also because there are so many more HR Renegades out there, and I wanted to keep it short enough to make sure I finished this article, i.e., to ensure it didn’t sit on a to-do list and forever reside in procrastination eternity.  Please comment with any of your renegade suggestions below – I’d love to further expand my sources too.

P.S. You should be listening to Rage Against the Machine’s Renegades of Funkwhile reading!

Also, these are in no particular order…

Renegades of HR

  1. Laszlo Bock is the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, Inc, where he has worked since 2006.  Mr. Bock has reshaped Google’s employer brand by discussing the elimination of brain teaser interview questions, as well as supporting the re:Work initiative, which is an extremely open and transparent look into Google’s own People Ops practices.  Here’s some copy taken from the About section of the re:Work site:  Since Google’s founding in 1998, we’ve experimented a lot with our culture and management practices. We started sharing what we’re learning – what works and what doesn’t – at our re:Work event and in Work Rules!, a book by our SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock.
  2. Patty McCord is best known as Netflix’s former Chief Talent Officer, and the woman behind the prolific Netflix Culture Deck.  I don’t know what’s more renegade to establishment HR philosophy than boldly laying out the performance driven culture of Netflix like that.  Patty did a phenomenal job articulating the culture, the expectations, and the rewards – so much so, that this edict has now become the basis for defining and communicating cultural values.  Check out Patty’s TED Institute talk below.
  3. Liz Ryan is Founder and CEO of Human Workplace, a publishing, coaching and consulting firm whose mission is to reinvent work for people.  If you’re involved at all with attracting recruiting and selecting candidates and you haven’t heard of Liz Ryan, stop what you’re doing and read some of her articles.  Liz boldly body slams the banality of poor candidate experience and is equipping savvy job-seekers with tactics that unarm HR!  This is not a bad thing, we need to be better at this, we CAN be better at this.  In no way should a candidate who might be the next MVP in your company be imposed to upload a resume and then spend 25 minutes completing required fields that contain the exact same info as their resume, c’mon people!
  4. Laurie Ruettiman is SPHR-certified and an influential speaker, writer, and social media strategist. She’s also the creator of Punk Rock HR, which Forbes named as one of the top 100 websites for women, founder of The Cynical Girl and The HR Blogger Network. She is also the co-founder of HRBloggers.com and HRMToday.com, the first social networks created for HR professionals.  So you get the point, she’s busy.  Laurie has a way of providing sound and useful HR sage advice, while adding her own hilariously sarcastic commentary that literally makes you laugh out loud.  I think HR needs to be able to laugh, and too often feels like it’s not allowed to though.  Laugh with your team, laugh at yourself, and laugh at life.  We spend so much time at work that we have to be able to enjoy some humor throughout the day.
  5. Hollie Delaney and Jamie Naughton are the Head of People Operations and Chief of Staff at Zappos.com and Zappos Family of Companies, respectively.  I can only assume to make some renegade-esque attributions to these ladies, considering the legendary change management initiative underway at Zappos to completely overhaul the company’s organizational structure through implementing Holacracy.  Zappos likens the shift to the research showing how as cities tend to increase in size, the innovation, or productivity of each resident increases by 15%.  However, when organizations get larger it’s often the opposite that’s true.  Nonetheless, with Zappos now emerging as the largest organization to undergo such a radical organizational transformation – it’s likely that Holley and Jamie have been extremely busy shaking things up and innovating all of the People Ops touch-points throughout the process.
  6. Mark Lipscomb is Vice President, HR at Tesla Motors and he’s drafted one of the best HR job descriptions in history (according to me), found as a LinkedIn article on his profile page.  “Our HR team . . . well . . . they are changing the world every day. This is sort of a requirement to working here – if you are not passionate about making things better for our organization, employees and humanity, you will hate it here. If you don’t exude passion, creativity, commitment, and fun, you will not make it. Cool places and disrupting the status quo are not for everyone!” And I’d think you might expect a need for renegade People Operations in an organization like Tesla, i.e., ranked #1 on Forbes’ List of The World’s Most Innovative Companies in 2015.
  7. Chip Joyce and Dr. Marla Gottschalk are the Founder/CEO and Director of Organizational Development for Allied Talent– a boutique management consulting firm and the official provider of The Alliance Framework. Based on LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s ideas presented in the The Alliance: Managing Talent in a Networked Age the management framework is a new model for the employer-employee relationship.  I’ve written about the underlying behavioral science that supports many of the practical applications suggested in the book, and find this paradigm-shifting premise of open, transparent career discussions to be a refreshing way to take the renegade reigns in your organization.  It’s fantastic to see a management consultancy dedicated to training leaders and providing tools to address the changing landscape of “the world of work”.
  8. Donna Morris is the Executive Vice President, Customer & Employee Experience at Adobe.  Probably most famous for abolishing Adobe’s performance review process in 2013.  According to Donna, the process had become an arena for pitting employees against each other, and it didn’t echo the culture of Adobe’s value that people are their greatest assets.  Turning around an ingrained process like performance reviews in a company with approximately 13,500 employees is no small feat – likely why Donna was awarded with the Top Ten HR Breakaway Leader award in 2013.
  9. I’m not sure who the People Ops Head is at Buffer, so I’m just listing the company itself as an HR Renegade.  Buffer is an application that allows users to spread out, or schedule their social sharing to their own needs, and the company has gained a ton of media coverage in the HR world for it’s complete transparency of all employees’ compensation (including execs).  Buffer lists the information on their website, and also describes the exact formula used to determine an employee’s compensation.  In one great article, the company also provided a detailed account of the hiring process.
  10. Finally, from the world of research and advisingDr. Charles Handler is a renegade thought leader.  Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as ERE.net, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler serves as a futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. He writes and speaks about the future of the world of work and how I-O psychology will propel and align People Operations and Analytics with the increasing need for data-based decision-making throughout the employee life-cycle, e.g., from attraction, selection, development, and retention.  Charles has covered such HR tech topics as simulation, game-based assessments, mobile devices, employer branding and candidate UX.

 Breaking from established best practices (e.g., abolishing performance reviews and restructuring a well known interview process), openness and transparency, and basically just having a sense of humor about life and work are all pieces of the renegade People Ops paradigm shift.

That last one (i.e., sense of humor) goes a long way with me, as I once completed a values inventory that helped me realize exactly how important humor is to me.  Perhaps that’s why I picked on Toby Flenderson at the outset of this article.  On The Office, Michael Scott can’t stand Toby’s seriousness and lack of amusement for all of Michael’s antics.  How would a People Ops renegade handle Michael?  Would they encourage crazy antics, or would they actually behave any differently?  I don’t want to get too deep on dissecting a comedy, but I suppose it’s food for thought.


In concluding this article I’d like to say that the above list is really a list of people who’ve helped me find my bearings in a People Operations generalist role, and I’m sure this list could be much, much longer.

Please feel free to shout-out anyone who I may have missed, or any companies that you think embody the renegade People Ops persona in the comments below.

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