Reimagining HR, According to Lee Scott
“Anybody can put together a policy manual,” says Director of Staff Services Lee Scott. “What’s more important is knowing who your staff are, what they love, and what they need.” In this interview from our series What My Employer Gets Right, Lee inspires a refreshing approach to HR.
I ran into a friend recently and asked what projects he’s been working on. He provided a few nuts and bolts, then summarized by saying, “My goal is to reimagine HR (human resources).” This High Calling series What My Employer Gets Right came to mind.
Lee Scott had no experience in human resources prior to being hired by the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach). He’s only thirty, after all, and after college, he stayed busy gathering a master’s degree in divinity and a second one in public policy in management, among other things like consulting on business strategy for the co-author of The Serving Leader. He’s certainly smart enough to do the job, but this combination of business and shepherding runs deeper than his young professional years: “I’m a farm kid from western PA. I grew up taking care of cattle.”
There’s a reason you should meet Lee: he gets it right for the employees he serves, just as the CCO gets it right for Lee. (Full disclosure: I’m one of those employees. Lee and I are colleagues.) We talked on the phone a few days after running into each other, and I think you’ll be inspired by what he had to say.
Sam: Let’s start with a simple question, Lee. What is HR?
Lee: HR is a lot of things to a lot of places. In general, it provides structure for an organization: benefits, conduct policy, time off for vacation or a new child … . It’s also the butt of a lot of jokes. Whatever it is, it functions well when it equips other parts of an organization to accomplish their tasks more efficiently.
Sam: Why did you get into it?
Lee: I got into it because Jesus called me to it. I didn’t know a job like mine even existed. The CCO didn’t want a by-the-book corporate model but a permission-giving model with someone willing to understand the organization’s culture. (My favorite classes at Carnegie Mellon were on organizational behavior and management.) My background in pastoral care and the job description being so different than what I expected made me think it was possible.
Sam: They took a risk, and it paid off. Speaking of different, even your title is unusual.
Lee: It’s director of staff services. As our executive vice president said, “Many HR departments live by a do-this-don't-do-that mentality. We’re committed to empowering staff.” So that’s what I do. I serve the staff.
Sam: Help me understand why this approach is better.
Lee: If HR is going to be reimagined—restored—we need to see employees as people, not resources. At the CCO, we believe they’ve been called to this particular work. If I view my staff in this way, it changes how I understand employee relations. We’re not dealing with their employment. We’re dealing with their calling.
Our own calling as an organization is “Transforming College Students to Transform the World.” If we hope to do this, then we need a transformational staff, which means we need to develop and manage our staff toward that end.
Turning Theory into Practice
Sam: So how does the CCO’s vision inspire you practically to do this job?
Lee: I get to collaborate in the recruiting and placement process. Because our staff are so engaged with the mission of the organization, we’ve had to orient HR around how they execute their calling. The recruiting department invites them to join us, and then, literally, hands me a track relay baton as a symbol that it’s now my job to care for them.
Considering the huge percentage of their daily lives staff spend working here, it’s an honor to encourage and equip them for ministry, Or, as Ephesians 4:12 says, "to prepare God’s people for works of service."
Sam: You shape the policy manual, too, don’t you? Can we talk about that for a minute? Because that might be the precise item that demonstrated a way my employer gets it right. A couple of years ago, you’ll remember, I got very sick with Lyme’s Disease and called to ask about time off. You answered me and then suggested I read the employee handbook for more details. I did. The entire thing. The strange part? I normally bristle at regulations, but I couldn’t help but feel cared for after each page.
Lee: Well, I think it’s because it reflects the organization who wrote it. It matters, for example, that our CEO writes a note on the first page to set the tone. You probably also felt cared for because the code of conduct gave you confidence to know how to act. You felt cared for because it addressed every area of your life: physical, mental, your wife and kids, finances for your family in the years after you stop working, space to pursue further education.
Think about it: our staff start off with three weeks of paid vacation. My mom had to work thirty years to get there! And twelve paid sick days? There’s no federal law for paid sick days.
We exist as a community, Sam. Anybody can put together a policy manual. What’s more important is knowing who your staff are, what they love, and what they need. Rather than know that Sam works for us, I need to know who Sam is.
Sam: Maybe that was it—the human part of human resources. You even prayed for me, Lee, though I’m sure most places can’t do that.
Lee: No, but we can at least know staff names and whether they’re married and have kids. In an organization of our size (about 170), every employee deserves to be known by their HR department.
Service with the Future in Mind
Sam: Seems like something every HR department should be doing, religious affiliation or not. Since the CCO is a Christian organization, what examples do you see it (or yourself) borrowing from the Bible?
Lee: Moses was the first HR professional. He established the first medical plan—a snake on a pole! [laughs] Nehemiah is a great metaphor for this generation of people in my position because he wasn’t trying to do something new. He worked on building the basic foundational structure to allow for other things to come later. In a similar way, we’re trying to restore what is in disrepair in the workplace.
I should clarify what I mean by structure. We want to understand the culture and context first, not adapt staff to an HR structure. Our employees are people who have a sense of calling to this work. And people have agency. They have chosen to push this rock up the hill. I want to help them. That, to me, is a new orientation for HR.
Sam: You said that HR is a lot of things to a lot of places. To you, in particular, then, as well as to the CCO who commissions you to do this work, you’re saying it’s about understanding the culture and context of the organization. I appreciate that. How do you hope this translates into what staff might say about your work years from now?
Lee: I think they’ll say less about me and direct their comments to their employment experience. I hope they’ll say, “They generously cared for the work I did,” and “It was a special place when it came to benefits,” and, “I worked for an organization that went above and beyond, and sought to know me.” My hope is that comments like these would result from us spending more time listening than writing policy.
Sam: Lee, thank you for pursuing faithfulness in this part of God’s world. Any final words?
Lee: If our staff thrive, the mission will get accomplished.