Three lessons learned as an HR Leader in Public Education

Written by 
Sid Haro

Human Resources is a department that is critical to the success of any school district or organization. I have learned that it is a parallel process that is balanced between the high functioning operations of the HR team and the ability to deliver support with a high level of emotional intelligence. Considering this, there are three lessons that have been extremely valuable to me in recruitment, serving staff, and developing the organization’s team. They are: learn to listen, be yourself and get out of the office.

1. Learn to listen

Listening sounds easy, yet for most of us requires a deliberateness and intentionality that takes much practice. Whether interviewing or investigating a complaint, effective listening helps us gain a deep understanding of the issue at hand, build empathy, and develop trust.

Questions that I have used to help support deep and empathetic listening are:

  • I wonder if there’s an alternate way or lens to look at that?
  • What do you think the other person’s considerations were?
  • What can you do, or be done about this situation?
  • Listening to you, I understand that the main issue seems to be… do I understand that right?
  • What do you consider was a positive about how you dealt with that situation? What would you do differently?
  • If you had a student who was in this situation, how would you support them?

I also try and remember that every time I feel like I want to jump in, count to five to give the person a chance to go into further detail.

2. Be yourself

Just as a middle school student can tell in a matter of minutes if their substitute teacher will make it through the day, others around you are able to determine if you are being authentic with them, or only saying what you think they want to hear. In HR, staff and prospective employees watch and listen to everything you say and do with an extra level of scrutiny. I always try to remember that when HR meets with or calls a staff member, the general consensus is that it won’t be good news! Prospective employees look at you as being representative of the organization’s beliefs, values, and culture.

Staff appreciate consistency, straight talk and communication on a regular basis, not just when there is an issue to be addressed. Every time you have an opportunity to meet with others (interviews, trainings, visitations, evaluations, etc.), you have an opportunity to reinforce the kind of climate and culture that you wish to create for your organization. Be yourself. Do what you say that you will do. By being consistent and authentic, trust will be built.

3. Get out of the office

About a year ago, I remember listening to one of our district coaches describe the challenges that their coachee was facing and how their staff members were being so unfair to them. The coach shared with me how often and long their coaching sessions were and everything that they were recommending for their coachee to do in order for them to be successful. Yet, real progress was not being achieved. At a break in their narrative, I asked, “How often do you just shadow your coachee as they go about their day?” “Do you listen to their interactions with their staff?” “Have you met staff to gain their perspective?” The coach paused and admitted that their sessions only took place in the coachee’s office.

I use this as an example of how we limit ourself when only listening to one person or not getting out to observe what is actually happening in the work place. That is where the real work is taking place! It is easy and sometimes seductive to stay in one’s own office more than you should. I regularly tell myself to “Get out of the office!” I have learned that it is such a benefit when HR puts a face to the name, and to have staff see you as someone who cares enough to visit them in their own work site/area.

Working in Human Resources provides both leaders and their staff with powerful opportunities to recruit and support their organization’s team members in a way that can either facilitate or create barriers to achieving their desired goals. Listening, being yourself (authentic), and getting out of the office have been 3 key learnings that have been of great support to my work over the years and continue to pay positive dividends.

Sid Haro
Assistant Superintendent of Human Relations @ Milpitas Unified School District