Discover the big disconnects in performance management today in the 2024 State of Performance Enablement report.

Robin Schooling, on Rediscovering What HR Means to You

By Ashley Litzenberger
3 minute read
Updated on June 10, 2024

On this episode of People Fundamentals, I’m joined by Robin Schooling, director of talent strategy at Humareso and co-host of the DriveThru HR Show. Robin has extensive experience in HR and talent strategy, and she sees the challenges HR leaders face daily. 

Many HR professionals struggle to define their roles and understand their true purpose within the organization. You may feel pressure to conform to traditional views of HR functions, such as compliance and administrative tasks, for example — which may conflict with your desire to contribute more strategically to the organization.

Robin says all these challenges are leading to a profound identity crisis within the profession. To counter it, she grounds us with a simple North Star statement: “HR exists to help people do their best work.”

In this insightful conversation, recorded live at UNLEASH America 2024 in Las Vegas, Robin explores the identity crisis plaguing HR, offers advice for addressing burnout, and provides practical tips for HR leaders.

Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | YouTube Music

Create your personal manifesto

Crafting a personal manifesto can be a transformative exercise for you as an HR leader. It serves as a guiding document that helps you align your actions with your core values and career goals — helping you regain a sense of who you are as an HR professional. “It’s taking the time to capture, ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing? What do I believe in? How do I want to change the world?’” Robin says. “It’s thinking about the work that we do and what our chosen career is in a bigger way.”

The beauty of a personal manifesto is its flexibility and personalization. It’s not a static document but rather an evolving reflection of your beliefs, motivations, and career aspirations. Start by asking yourself some big, existential questions: Why does HR exist? How does HR add value? Your answers to these questions will form the foundation of your manifesto. 

Creating a manifesto isn’t just about personal alignment; it’s also a powerful tool for managing burnout and finding fulfillment in your role. When you’re feeling burnout, and when you’re engaging with employees feeling burnout, going back to these questions can help you make sure that your compass is pointing toward your true North.

Embrace change — and the chaos it brings

Embracing change and chaos might not be the easiest thing to do, but according to Robin, it’s an essential mindset for HR leaders like you. In the fast-paced world of HR, change is constant, and the ability to adapt can set you apart as a truly strategic partner within your organization. 

Robin encourages you to see these disruptions not as threats but as opportunities for growth and innovation: “We need to embrace change — and the chaos that comes with it — instead of running away from it.” 

Robin’s advice is to view these moments of chaos as opportunities to refine and enhance your HR practices. This proactive approach not only helps you stay ahead but also positions HR as a critical driver of positive change within the organization. By embracing this mindset, you can transform potential disruptions into powerful moments of innovation and progress.

Stay grounded in the basics

To remain grounded amid ongoing chaos, focus on the fundamentals. She believes that no matter how strategic or innovative your role becomes, HR’s core functions must be solid. “We’ve got to get the core,” she says. “We’ve got to pay people correctly and track their vacation correctly, whatever it is. I’ve got to make sure we’re in compliance before I can even think about moving up to truly being, for example, an advisor or a strategic partner or leader within the organization.” By ensuring these basics are handled flawlessly, you create a stable base from which you can drive more strategic initiatives.

Moreover, mastering the fundamentals frees you up to focus on higher-level strategic activities. When the basics are running smoothly, you can devote more time and energy to initiatives that drive organizational growth and employee engagement. Robin’s take is clear: By excelling in the fundamentals, you set the stage for greater strategic contributions and ensure your HR function is seen as both reliable and innovative.

People in This Episode

Robin Schooling: LinkedIn


Robin Schooling:

Our value becomes, again, at a higher level, we’re there to ensure people are able to do their best work, and we add value when we connect how we do that to what the goals of the organization are. If that’s what I believe, then the media part of my manifesto becomes, “Well, what are these truths that I think are just absolutely inherent in my vision of doing HR, what are the mantras, if you will, of the non-negotiables in my mind?”

Ashley Litzenberger:

Hello and welcome to Betterworks’ podcast, People Fundamentals. I’m your host, Ashley Litzenberger, Senior Director of Product Marketing. Betterworks’ core belief in People Fundamentals revolves around helping HR lead through constant change by focusing on core values like fairness, support, balance, and enabling growth opportunities for employees. These tenets empower everyone in the workforce to strive for excellence, to foster creativity, and to acknowledge each other’s contributions. Betterworks believes that strategic HR leaders can translate these principles into action, shaping their workforce for the better, and helping meaningful business outcomes.

In this episode, recorded live at Unleash America 2024 in Las Vegas, we’re tackling a topic that resonates deeply within the HR community. Is HR experiencing an identity crisis? To answer this, we’re joined by Robin Schooling, director of Talent Strategy at Humareso. Robin brings her extensive experience and unique insights into the ongoing transformation within HR. She discusses critical questions and challenges faced by HR professionals today and shares her approach to aligning personal beliefs with organizational goals to craft a fulfilling HR career.

Robin dives into the personal and existential questions that plague HR professionals, offering strategies for realignment and for managing burnout. She emphasizes the importance of continuous self-reflection in crafting a personal manifesto to navigate through the complexities of HR roles. So tune in and join us as we discuss the modern identity of HR and how you can foster alignment and satisfaction within your roles and across your organization.

Well, hello and welcome to our podcast, People Fundamentals. We’ve had so many different individuals on this podcast, and we’ve covered a number of topics. We were just talking, and the thing that you mentioned that I want to dive into today, is HR having an identity crisis?

Robin Schooling:

Yes, still having an identity crisis, and I’ve worked in HR my entire career, which spans, let’s just say decades, and we have long had this battle that’s internal to ourselves. Practitioners have this internal battle with themselves of, “What do I do? What am I about? Who am I? What’s my role? Am I doing the right things?” We can see that manifest itself in different ways when people don’t find the right answers when they have that internal struggle.

Then that other aspect of the identity crisis is, again, where an individual practitioner or a team or an HR leader or the collective profession will ponder this existential question of, “Who are we? What do we do, and why are we still battling with these external forces that are trying to define HR or don’t understand what it can be and should be and truly is?” So there’s just this mismatch of what a lot of people go into HR for or want to continue doing, which is why they stay in HR and then what organizations expect of them.

Ashley Litzenberger:

So spell that out for me. What is the thing that motivates HR folks to enter the space? First, what is that and has that changed as new generations are coming in?

Robin Schooling:

The answer to that is often so very personalized for people because I have seen and heard many different answers to that. There is some truth in the cliché where a lot of new HR professionals, folks newly coming into the field or people who want to make a career switch into HR will often cite the, “Because I want to work with people. I enjoy people and I want to work with people.” It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche because I think there’s some truth in it. So there are a lot of HR folks that do roll that out as a reason to get into the field.

There are also folks who go into HR because they truly see it as a business discipline and they want to use those analytical skills and that strategy work. So there are folks that go into HR with a specific view of especially like, “If I go and work for a large enterprise, I’m going to be able to really use those muscles.” So I see folks going into it for that reason as well.

I think that, and this is my personal journey, really, but I think once someone has worked in the field for a while, they do start to question if it’s the right place for them still. I see that a lot, and we’ve seen, to trot out the we’ll never stop staying during the pandemic, but during the pandemic, a lot of HR folks burned out. I did see a lot of people then question, “Do I still want to keep working in HR? I’m exhausted,” but I think it’s wise for an HR professional, well, again, this could be anybody, this is not just the HR field, but I always encourage people to do some continual reflection, as I put it out to people, is to craft and write their personal manifesto. It’s an internal exercise and it’s always evolving.

My manifesto that I wrote 10 years ago looks slightly different than the one I would write today, but it’s taking the time to capture, “Why am I doing what I’m doing? What do I believe in? How do I want to change the world?” and it’s thinking about the work that we do and what our chosen career is in a bigger way. I think that’s really helpful to get over that identity crisis a little bit because what I believe may guide my career choice and may help me identify then where I want to work, what’s going to fit my personal beliefs and ethos.

Ashley Litzenberger:

I want to dig into this a little bit more because we’re shifting from is HR having an identity crisis to what I think is a really deep conversation on what is my identity as an HR practitioner, and I think that what you’re talking about creating your own manifesto, asking those questions is a really powerful way to start to hone in on why is it that I’m doing what I’m doing and how can I ensure that I’m feeling fulfilled in the work that I’m doing and I’m able to deliver something that’s meaningful to me and make sure that I align with an organization where it’s going to be meaningful to them as well.

Robin Schooling:


Ashley Litzenberger:

So if you were talking to an HR professional right now who is feeling burned out, who is struggling to get buy-in on some of the initiatives that they’re doing at their organization, what are the questions that you would ask them to sit down and reflect on and why?

Robin Schooling:

I think it’s very much an exercise where you start big and then you hone down into what those behaviors are that you want to live by. So when I say start big, it’s thinking about answering two questions to start with, which is why, and this is very high level, this is very existential, but it’s, why does HR exist? You could go in a million directions with that. Why does HR exist and how does HR add value? I start with kind of those, and I think it can go any number of different directions, but I think asking them, “Well, why does HR exist?”

When I answer that question, it might be very different from another HR practitioner. In my mind, HR does not exist to do quarterly 401(k) audits or handle compliance or track PTO balances or whatever it might be. Now, that’s stuff we do. We do it. It has to be done. Stuff needs to be done, but that’s not why we exist. I think we exist, as I define it when I think of my manifesto, we exist to ensure that people can do their best work. It’s as simple as that. So that’s sort of my guiding principle. This is why HR exists. This is why I think HR is important. HR exists to help people do their best work.

Well, that sounds very highfalutin, and telling that to some CEO who wants to hire an HR person, they think, “Well, no, I want you to make sure we’re in compliance.” Okay. So how does then HR deliver value becomes the second question to start answering internally. Again, I don’t believe our value is measured by the checklists of things that we get done. Again, there are things we need to do and we need to master the fundamentals and get those things done, and we need to have this baseline knowledge and all those sorts of things, but our value becomes, again, at a higher level, we’re there to ensure people are able to do their best work, and we add value when we connect how we do that to what the goals of the organization are.

So I want people to do their best work. I need to connect it to the goals of the organization, and I do that. I create that value by enabling and nurturing a culture and a work environment where the managers and the leaders are equipped to do their part to make sure people are doing their best work.

So it’s really just, as I think about it, I start with those two questions and then take it into, “Well, if that’s what I believe, then the meatier part of my manifesto becomes, ‘Well, what are these truths? What are the truths that I think are just absolutely inherent in my vision of doing HR? What are the mantras, if you will, of the non-negotiables in my mind?'”

Ashley Litzenberger:

So what I’m hearing is there’s a couple of meta questions that you start with, which are, what is HR and what is HR supposed to do or what is the impact of HR? I think those are questions that aren’t meta questions, those are personal questions too. So it’s really, what do I believe HR is and what do I believe the impact of HR should be, and it should be really personalized to you, not generalized to the industry to help you find your why.

Then from there, doubling down into, how does that create value for my organization? It can continue to be philosophical, but you might actually have very specific changes or strategies that you want to implement to see that. Those things will help you define what it is that your purpose is, and if it aligns with your organization and if you can have a conversation with your core team to bring that about, and then the next step is, how do we actually implement those? What are the strategies that we create for our workforce?

I would almost say that these questions become the questions that every executive leader should be asking themselves for their role, and every individual at a company should get to be asking these. This is something that performance management software can help with when you have growth plans and employees can define, “Here’s what is important to me. Here’s where I want to go in my career,” and you can really start defining these value-based questions that managers can gain insight into and use those to have career development conversations.

So you’re actually telling HR teams to ask the very same questions that we should be having everyone at a company ask to make sure that they are aligned with the work that they’re doing and they’re motivated in what they’re doing. So when you’re feeling burnout and when you’re engaging with employees feeling burnout, going back to these questions are really the ones that will help make sure that your compass is pointing towards your true north.

Robin Schooling:

Right, and sometimes it’s then when things, maybe whether it’s burnout or whether it’s, “I feel misaligned perhaps within my organization or my role,” yeah, it’s going back to the what do I believes and looking if that’s perhaps because there have been changes in the organization or changes in my role and all of a sudden now things are out of alignment, and so it can help me think maybe why I’m not fulfilled, and that may be an organizational mismatch, it may be a role mismatch, it may just be, “You know what? Maybe there’s things I can do to fix to get back in alignment.”

Ashley Litzenberger:

Well, I want to double down on that because when we’re talking about these things, it almost feels like the obvious answer is like you do all this self-reflection, and if there’s not alignment, then you go find the place that it’s there, but the truth is, there are a lot of reasons why someone is going to stay at their organization or in their role. They might need the benefits for their family, they might need the job security, they might actually love the flexibility that comes along with it or they might really like the value or the work that the organization is doing, even if they don’t like what’s going on in the day to day and they feel burnt out.

I think this is relevant for HR leaders to think about organizationally and strategically as well, but if you are in a place where you’ve realized that there is a misalignment, what steps can you take to recreate that alignment, whether you’re an HR professional in their role or an individual contributor in their role?

Robin Schooling:

I’ll give you a couple of examples of that because when I think of, again, this is my manifesto, my non-negotiables, my beliefs. Two of the things that I, and I have this written down here, I had it posted on a wall for a while. It was kind of my true north. One of my key thoughts was don’t mess up the fundamentals, which meant we’ve got to get the core. We’ve got to pay people correctly and track their vacation correctly, whatever it is. I’ve got to make sure we’re in compliance before I can even think about moving up to truly being, for example, an advisor or a strategic partner or leader within the organization. So don’t mess up the fundamentals.

Another key point in my mind, a core belief of mine is that as HR professionals, we need to embrace change and the chaos that comes with it instead of running away from it, which we tend to do and it’s human nature, but we do it super really well in HR where we get very comfortable in the status quo, “This has worked forever. Let’s keep doing it.”

So when I think about, again, doing that reflection like, “What’s off? Why do I feel a little bit misaligned?” I think of those two thoughts of mine where, “You know what? Maybe I believe that we need to embrace change and realize chaos comes with it. So what does that look like?” If I’m reflecting on it, “You know what? Maybe I’m not doing that anymore. Maybe there is a lot of change in my organization, and am I handling that correctly?”

So then it may take me, again, down this other path, “Well, let me reflect on, okay, is this an HR initiative,” for example, “that we didn’t really think through using a change management model?” for example, “and therefore it’s frustrating me and I’m annoyed rather than being energized by it.”

Ashley Litzenberger:

So did our approach somehow create the misalignment and can we go back and can we restructure or can we pivot or can we create new guidance to take something that has led to misalignment and, I guess to use the metaphor, straighten it out a little bit?

Robin Schooling:

Right. To your earlier point, it’s very easy to say, “I’m burnt out. I’m frustrated. Oh, my gosh, I’m so sick of working for my company,” whatever it is and like, “I’m going to put my resume together and go forth and find something else,” and maybe there is just a moment of diving in and looking, “Well, what specifically within my role or my HR team or my function is not gelling with how I want to work and what I believe?” and thinking that through before deciding, “Yup, let me start applying on various job boards.”

Ashley Litzenberger:

From my perspective, putting on my individual contributor hat, but also it’s something that I use as a manager too. When I was just an individual contributor, I would always ask myself three questions on about a six-month basis at any job I was at, and that was, “Am I learning? Do I see a path for career development here, and do I like the people that I’m working with?” If the answer to one of those questions was no, I would work on it, but I was also engaged, and if the answers to two of those questions was no, then I would start really thinking about, and then if all three of them were no, then that’s when you’re really searching for a job, but then I started to turn it around and stop just doing that internal vetting process and start sharing what I was just discovering with my manager. So not in the sense of like, “I don’t see career development here. Fix it.”

I would go and start using that as a framework for a conversation of, “Hey, I’d really like to grow these specific skills,” if I felt like I had hit a wall and wasn’t developing anymore or I would say, “Hey, here’s where I want to go in my career. Can you help me chart a pathway towards that with work here at this company?” or if I was struggling with the people that I was working with, maybe it would be, “Hey, can I start working on a different team? I’m just ready for something new or different.” I started to use that as a method for managing upwards and taking charge of my own career, and that became a really helpful barometer test, kind of like your manifesto, but it became a workplace satisfaction survey that I was asking myself.

As a manager, I ask all of my direct reports to ask themselves those questions every six months. I also give them the piece of advice that when you do your performance review, update your resume, even if you’re really happy, just do it so it’s up-to-date and you save yourself a headache, but if you ever find that the answer to any of those questions stops being a yes and is a no, make that the topic of our next one-on￾one and we’ll work together to solve it, and that becomes a really great clear set of conversations that I can have to do what you were just saying, making sure that there’s alignment between what my direct reports are doing and who they are and what they want out of their work.

You’re right. There’s always work that we have to do. There’s always some transactional work that needs to get done. We all recognize that, but there is definitely something wrong when you find that you’re only doing the transactional work and you’re not answering those other questions that lead to fulfillment.

Robin Schooling:

I think that that reflection, using your three questions or going through a exercise of, “Let me put together my manifesto,” whatever it is, I think it’s so important for people, especially who are a little more senior in their careers and/or have stayed in the same organization or same role for quite a while because it’s at those times that people really start to lose a sense of, again, “What’s important and what’s my purpose and what do I want to …” I might think, “Oh, I’m not worried about career progression maybe anymore. Maybe I’m retiring in 10 years or whatever,” but that doesn’t mean I still can’t and shouldn’t have the fire and the excitement and the joy in the work that I do, and it doesn’t have to be slogging through the next 10 years just to get it done.

Find that reason again to be excited about HR in my world. What will fire you up again? What will get you excited? How do you recommit yourself to live your beliefs, and what does that look like? I think of times when I’ve done that, there are arguments, shall we say, that I’ve gotten into at previous jobs where… Let me just preface it by saying if I did not work in HR, I probably would be a union organizer because I am very much in favor of people being able to organize and get the best conditions. You don’t hear a lot of HR people say that.

So when I’ve worked in organizations where the senior leadership team belief was much more employees are cogs and wheel, and here’s the rules, get people through it, chunk, chunk and treatment of people just went against every core belief that I had, and I was very vocal in closed meetings, not standing up at a town hall or something, but it was very important to me, again, to look back at what drives me. I want work to be better for people. I want people to do their best work. I want to remove obstacles, and instead I’m working for an organization where we’re putting out obstacles and I’m Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill and I can’t do it alone, and I had to confront it and try to make the changes and change the mindset of the other senior leaders where and when I could.

Ultimately, it was not going to change and make me feel fulfilled as a human being and as an HR practitioner. So the one in particular I’m thinking about, so I chose to leave the organization because my frustrations were tied directly to the core beliefs that I had and had articulated, again, in my manifesto of how I want to work and where I want to work and what that looks like, and it didn’t match.

Ashley Litzenberger:

So once again, just the importance of if you are in HR, if you’re in any position, but if you’re experiencing burnout or if you’re experiencing frustration, take the time to do that reflection, write that manifesto, ask those questions, ask the questions that I asked. If you’re incredibly brave, maybe create a pulse survey around those questions and use sentiment analysis or AI to summarize the key findings for OpenText and for yes/no answers for the other questions, and see where your workforce lies. If you are in it to make work better, put on your own oxygen mask, do your own reflection, but I wonder what would happen if you also created the opportunity for your workforce to have that same reflection.

Robin Schooling:

Yes, and I think what I would not do, however, is force people to make it public because I think the power of that manifesto, if you feel safe to fully articulate it out to the world, it’s good, but if you don’t, don’t.

Ashley Litzenberger:

It’s a good cautionary note to include as we wrap up this podcast. Thank you so much. I’ve really appreciated our conversation around…

Robin Schooling:

Me too.

Ashley Litzenberger:

… what is purpose and how do we find it, and how do we create alignment in the work that we’re doing every day, and how do we help restructure that and straighten things out when they get bent out of shape.

Robin Schooling:

Yes, we can do it.

Ashley Litzenberger:

Thank you.

Robin Schooling:

Thank you.

Ashley Litzenberger:

As we conclude this insightful discussion, let’s reflect on how these insights can be actively implemented within any organization to foster a healthier, more aligned HR practice. First, encourage continual self-reflection among your HR team. As Robin emphasized, crafting and regularly updating a personal manifesto can help HR professionals stay aligned with their core values and organizational goals. This practice not only aids in personal growth, but also ensures that HR practices are continuously evolving to meet the needs of both the organization and its employees.

Second, foster an environment that supports these reflective practices. Create spaces and opportunities for HR professionals to explore their roles and identities within the company. This might involve training sessions, retreats or regular meetings focused on professional development and personal alignment.

Lastly, promote open communication and strategic alignment across all levels. Ensure that the HR team’s objectives and practices are clearly understood and embraced across the organization. This transparency helps to align HR’s work with the company’s broader goals and enhances overall effectiveness of HR initiatives.

Remember, as we’ve learned from today’s discussion with Robin, it’s essential to continuously align personal beliefs with organizational goals to overcome challenges in the HR field. Implementing these strategies can lead to a more engaged, satisfied, and productive HR team.

Be sure to stay tuned for our next episode of the People Fundamentals Podcast. Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or YouTube music, and if you like what you hear, share us with your friends and colleagues. We’ll see you again soon.