Let me first start by saying I love being an HR professional. I love the insight that the profession gives you into a company and it’s employees. But as HR people know, this insight can often be a double-edged sword.  Instead of being coaches we often become referees, instead of ambassadors of our organization, we become law enforcement to policy and procedure.

But how do we prevent that?  How do you keep from becoming the department of “no,” and more importantly, keep yourself from becoming the “principal’s office” that everyone avoids.  Below are five mindset shifts that I have made in order to become the professional I want to be, and help create the culture I want to work at.

1. Human Resources vs. Employee Experience

When I first heard the term “employee experience” five years ago, I thought it was adorable.  The way you think a kitten trying to do algebra is adorable, fun, but not at all effective.  I assumed that it was just another rebranding of the profession like moving from personnel to HR.  What I failed to realize then was that this wasn’t about titles, it was about redefining the purpose of HR.  That instead of a department that sees humans as “one of our most important assets,” EE professionals don’t see employees as assets at all, rather they are the organization itself.  Employee Experience is about creating an environment that breeds collaboration, innovation, and fun so all employees can do their best work.

2. Learning To Say No vs. How To Say Yes

If I got a dollar for every HR conference that had a course titled “Learning How To Say No,” I would be writing this post from the sandy beaches of Bora Bora.  Let’s take the radical view that we don’t have to say no (at least not all the time). We should look for ways to say yes, to make things that seem impossible happen, to advocate for an employee and trumpet great ideas. If we have to say no to them, be  honest as to why and leave the door open for the employee to push back.

3. Telling as Little as Possible Vs. Sharing As Much As You Can

I once had a VP of HR tell me that confidentiality is the most important trait of a good HR professional.  That really struck me. Confidentiality is critical in any profession when you have access to personal information, but confidentiality does not trump honesty, compassion, and fairness.  Share what you can, and if there is something that requires you to button your lip, be clear, direct, and compassionate as to why.

4. Process Driven vs. People Focus

Compliance and ensuring equity is a necessary and important part of the HR function, and having a process is critical to making sure that happens.  However, when process becomes more important than the people it’s supposed to help, it’s time to reevaluate.  Keep your processes flexible and people centered.

5. Injecting Fun vs. Supporting Culture

All too often HR plays the role of the awkward party host, forcing you to play mixer games that you are not that interested in playing.  If you want a culture where people interact and have more fun, then interact and have fun with them.  Move from host to party guest – mingle, have fun, and most importantly don’t force it. Supporting culture means immersing yourself in it, encouraging it, and sometimes getting out of the way so it can emerge on it’s own.

These mindset shifts are about changing your focus from the “how” (How do I get everyone in their pay bands? How do I keep the company in compliance?), to the “why and what” (Why do we want to have competitive pay? What motivates employees?). It’s about changing the way you see and interact with employees, regardless of your title, whether that’s HR, Employee Experience, or Happiness Ninja.

What other ways would you like to see “traditional HR” change?