I never went to school or was formally trained to be in HR.
I joined a start-up as an Executive Assistant to the CEO. A career path that I enjoyed.
Supporting humans was my jam.
The superpower I shared with the CEO when he interviewed me was "having the ability to know what people need before they do."
I supported a unicorn start-up at the peak of VC funding, the abundance of term sheets, and unforgettable SXSW parties.
Shortly after, I joined a team of 8; I was informally introduced to HR since it was a big need.
I decided to jump in. Supporting the CEO and the people as the start-up grew.
I learned everything on the job and absolutely loved it.
My biggest "flaw" was my heart; as the CEO would say: "Charisse, you have too much heart."
What was really going on was I prioritized humanity over the liner parts of the business.
I was so new to this ecosystem of start-up, advocating for the humans and running operations for a hyper-growth company, that I became consumed.
There is so much to share around that - but that's for another day.
I retired from HR at 35.
My last job ended in resignation and a realization that HR, as it stands, isn't where I want to be.
I toggled with the decision as the money is great and if you do the basics and are good at your job you can go many places.
I didn't plan to retire until I realized that the line of work I am in conflicts with the foundational nature and conception of HR.
As I partner with company cultures and involve myself with the systems, behaviors, challenges, and changes - I realize how much culture work is a compliment and in conflict with HR.
HR is linear. Culture is Lunar.
There must be balance.
In reflection on my retirement, this is what I've learned:
If your people don't trust HR, you have an expensive liability department.
This understanding comes from understanding company culture. If the culture doesn't feel safe from the people they believe are designed to make them feel safe, they start to create microcosms. Microcosms in the culture are dangerous because the culture (the people) aren't able to engage, contribute, and do what you've envisioned them to do because they are using up additional energy to maintain survival mode.
Company culture microcosms where gossip, passive-aggressive behavior, microaggression, and things that a growing business can't afford to have are.
Your people need HR they can trust. To know that HR has their back and will speak up for them as they navigate the workplace. Complimentary to that, the culture needs HR to be consistent with the rules of engagement. The minute the culture senses inconsistent patterns (i.e., what HR says it will do vs. what it does). The survival mode is heightened, and things start to shift.
Culture work and HR are two different things.
Too many times in job descriptions, companies ask HR to "own" or "cultivate" the culture. I have fallen into that trap as it seems important to the work. However, company culture work and HR are two different functions. HR is around maintaining a system, and Culture work is about honoring the variables in and around the system.
To hold both is burnout and disaster waiting to happen because the energy for both are different, and each requires a different frequency to navigate.
Whenever I partner with a company, HR is energetically dehydrated or behind in the people's initiatives and focuses.
This brings me to something else I learned.
Inclusion x Diversity, and HR are two different things.
Companies tucking Inclusion or DEI initiatives under HR are destined to fail.
Our brains see DEI as three little letters, yet the complexity of DEI is deeper than most realize. This is why burnout in DEI is happening. You shift these things under HR, and you have a lukewarm budget and OKRs that don't go anywhere.
Combining DEI under HR is like combining Marketing and Accounting - they are both functions of revenue and important, but they again carry different energy and a different frequency.
Some might say HR must do DEI, but with what time and resources? Along with the fact that DEI at its foundation needs a refresh, you are setting HR and anyone who works on DEI up for failure.
Right now, there are disengaged DEI committees, bottom budget inclusion initiatives, all leaning towards a place and space that isn't efficient or effective. It's not because people don't care; I think they do. They followed treads and experts and didn't recognize that this is simpler yet bigger than how it aligns with expectations.
If you are going to do anything inclusion or DEI related - partner with HR, don't tuck it within.
HR needs its own HR.
HR needs its own HR.
HR needs its own HR.
HR needs its own HR.
Going into companies to partner on culture, the HR people are the ones that need the most support as they see and take on everything. They either express their concerns and advocate for themselves, or they stay silent and deal with the "norms" of the job.
While beginning in HR, I had an outside HR service that would be my Jiminy Cricket, therapist, and advisor. I didn't know some things or felt uncomfortable going to the CEO or Exec team. I needed my own space to process with folks that were unattached and understood.
I'm not a huge fan of commiserating circles, so traditional HR groups didn't work for me. I found that we were all smelling the same shit, and no one knew what roses were supposed to smell like.
If you get nothing else from this article - get HR for your HR.
They need it - even if they say they don't.
HR done right transcends into a Humanity Department.
It's time for traditional HR to transcend into Humanity Departments.
Humanity Departments keep all the administrative, legal, and general functions of HR; however, the philosophy of the department is rooted and foundationally grounded in humanity.
This means no matter if you are laying someone off due to a re-org or terminating someone that has done something bad or wrong - you treat them with humanity.
It means that you look at and review policies with humanity in mind. You can still maintain professional compliance and use humanity. The balance is empowering.
When Executives are making decisions, the default check is 'are we using humanity'?
Sounds too simple to work, but it works.
The Humanity Philosophy is about understanding that there are two sides to our humanity, and choosing the one that resonates closest to kindness, and our higher selves is the key.
This might seem like a mix between kumbaya and kombucha - but think about it this way. Every person, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, how they identify, background, upbringing, or any other label society has given, wants to be treated like a human.
Humanity Departments allow you to see your people in HD.
Thank you for reading.
Charisse Fontes is human, and with her humannesses, she is a birth and death doula, anthropologist, speaker, author, a guide for leaders, and a culture partner for growing companies.