I get calls and emails from sales people and recruiters to beat the band. I know they are doing their job, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING annoys me more than a pushy sales person who wants to fast track the relationship. And how, you may ask, do they do this? Usually by either: a.) inviting me to coffee or b.) inviting me to a round of golf. If you are reading this, there are two things you should know about me: a.) I HATE coffee, and b.) I do not play golf. I took golf as a P.E. elective in college (don’t judge), I learned how to play, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Sure, I would rather play golf than go to the dentist, but not by much. Does this mean I hate sales people? Of course not. I was in sales once, and I know that it is a tough job. I also know that to be successful, you have to be persistent. At the same time, that persistency should be geared towards getting to know me. If you are reaching out to me wanting to buy me coffee, or take me out for a round of golf – to me this is just you trying to shortcut the relationship by making a broad assumption about me. To me, you are making an assumption – I am a middle-aged white guy, therefore I must drink coffee and play golf. I probably also have a playlist on my phone called 90’s grunge and… well, never mind that last part, just be genuine. Let me know that you are looking and would like to leverage my network. I will respond to that. You can’t build a relationship overnight, so don’t try. Get to know me, get to know my interests, what makes me tick, then we can talk.
So what does this particular rant have to do with HR? I am so glad you asked. The workforce today is about relationships – genuine relationships – and you simply cannot short-cut those. In fact, in the current workforce, with more people working either remote or hybrid, the need for managers and HR to build those relationships is greater, but is also more difficult. With the move to more remote work, the workplace as we know it is going to become more and more commoditized. For many, working from home is a perk and a draw, but when more employers do it, it becomes less of a stand-out perk. On the flip side, things that companies used to rely on become less important. Your competitive advantage moves more towards salary and benefits, which is to say, money. And when you start competing exclusively on money, that is a race to the bottom.
Your competitive advantage is the same as it really always has been – relationships with your employees. And to have relationships with your employees, you have to know your employees. Know what they like and what they don’t. I worked with a high ranking executive once who loved coffee. I mean really loved coffee. I mean, it was an unhealthy relationship with the stuff. I would go to his office multiple times a day, and for the first two or three weeks, every time I went in he would offer me a coffee. Of course, I declined every time, which no doubt left him dumbfounded (to be fair, I probably did a lot of things that left him dumbfounded). At any rate, one time he asked me, “do you not drink coffee?” I responded that I did not. I see, what do you drink? I said that I liked hot tea. The next day when I was in his office he brewed me a cup of hot tea. Now, I have to add that the tea he brewed was actually a wild plant that was growing in his yard which he had pulled. I know this because the stem was poking out of the cup when he handed it to me (Fortunately I did not turn up on a random drug screen for some time). When I asked about it, he said that this was something that was brewed and drank in his country. Incidentally I made a mental note not to visit his home country.
This was an example, though not a well thought out one, of someone at least trying to get to know me. And despite the fact that his tea tasted like he had used gym socks for tea bags, I was appreciative of the gesture. He was genuine. Maybe a little nutty, but still genuine, and this is my advice to anyone who understands the value of relationships and getting to know your co-workers. Just be genuine about it. And for all you sales people out there: don’t call me up and tell me that you want to catch up over a round of golf, or at the local Starbucks. I am not going to respond to that. I may work in HR, but I do still have a soul. A soul that hates coffee.