Why We Think the Future of HR is Open Source

When you face a difficult situation or tough question at work, who do you go to? Chances are, you have a confidant or peer whose opinion you respect. Better yet, that person has been-there, done-that and can share advice based on real experiences.

In HR, these relationships are monumentally important. Much of your work deals with sensitive information, and confidentiality often comes into play. Plus, many HR “departments” are teams of one, with nary an HR-experienced colleague in sight.

That’s why having a network of go-to resources who truly get it is so valuable. And that’s why Namely is thrilled to partner with HR Open Source, a growing community of HR practitioners that is striving to help people share their knowledge and democratize access to innovative HR practices.

In honor of our partnership, we sat down with the co-founders, Lars Schmidt and Ambrosia Vertesi. Here’s what they had to say about how they got into HR, why they started HROS, and their hopes for the future.

We hear from a lot of HR professionals that they "fell" into HR. How did you get your start in the field?

Lars Schmidt: I certainly fit that “fell into” category. I knew I wanted to move to Southern California after college. There was only one company with an office in SoCal at my school’s career fair, and it happened to be a technical recruiting company called Pencom Systems. I was a Marketing and Multinational Business major in school so figured I’d get into advertising, but once I started recruiting I found I was really drawn to it and have remained since.

Ambrosia Vertesi: I like to think that I fit the “grew into” category. I originally started as a teacher, moved into a learning and development role in the tech sector, learned breadth under great leaders in business operations, and then became drawn to partnering with founders on hyper-growing start-ups within the tech space. For me it all starts with the employees, and then of course the customers, so being at the center of that has kept me feeling connected to making an impact.

How did you meet each other?

LS: We were introduced by a mutual friend in 2012. At the time, I was running recruiting and innovation at NPR, and Ambrosia was leading the People and Recruiting team at Hootsuite. Our first call lasted two hours, and we spent most of that time talking through our struggles in our respective roles, and offering suggestions based on our experiences.

AV: It’s funny, whether we knew it or not, that first call was the seed that became HROS. The experience of needing that connection personally and assuming others felt the same.

When did you first have the idea for HROS?

LS: We were talking over beers at SXSW in 2015. We were discussing the widening gap between leaders and laggards in the space, and the shortage of free resources available to help HR practitioners bring progressive practices into their companies. We explored other industries where learning and innovation happens quickly, and we landed on the open source model.

AV: Both having been in the tech space, open source practices were something we were familiar with and something we thought use could use to help explain our long term vision clearly. We also wanted to complement existing learning resources and communities versus competing with them. Working for Hootsuite, I spent a lot of time in social HR and recruiting. There were a lot of net new practices I was being asked about, or needing help with, that were far from being adopted as “best practices” by SHRM, HBR, and other associations. Our idea was for HROS to live in that space where people hear about “the why” and “the what” of something new, but there aren’t a lot of resources on “the how” yet.

What have you learned from each other (and other peers) that has helped shape your HR practice?

LS: From Ambrosia, I’ve learned what it means to be a modern HR leader—empathy, agility, curiosity, passion, and heart. She’s a model for what modern HR leaders can and should be. From the community, I’m inspired by them every day. There are so many talented practitioners out there who truly care about their employees and want to build better practices to support them. The way they’ve embraced the idea of sharing their knowledge and expertise to help their peers is inspiring. It pushes us to continue growing and scaling HROS to better support them.

AV: To me, Lars truly epitomizes the values and ethos of HROS; he has long been selflessly committed to sharing, growing, elevating, and celebrating everyone he meets. I have not only been lucky enough to learn from that magic, but also his unbelievable ability to balance leading with his full heart, while still being a fiercely competitive recruiting and branding executive. For many, one comes at the cost of the other. The thing that has most shaped how I think about my work is when our someone in our community boldly shares “what didn’t work” in their case studies, sparks, or posts. This is hard for leaders in any sector, but seeing HR becoming more bold here inspires me to take bigger risks.

How do you hope people will participate in HROS?

LS: We view HROS as equal parts education and inspiration. At the very least, jump onto and browse the case studies, sparks, and resources to find tools to support your work. They’re all free to access and use, so zero barriers. Once you’ve done that, ideally you want to get more involved. Then you can formally join the initiative (free, of course). Then it’s time to join our Facebook group and add your voice to the conversation there to share your knowledge. From there, we’d ideally love practitioners to contribute back to HROS and submit a case study or spark of their own.

AV: Not everyone can get to a conference but we are trying to also bring people together in person more as well. We’ve done in-person learning labs, meet ups, and have a few more events coming up this year. I think in-person connecting will be something we continue to invest more in as we grow.

What have been some of the best moments along the HROS journey to date?

LS: I’ll never forget the opening keynote at LinkedIn Talent Connect where we unveiled HROS to the world. We really didn’t know how it would be received, but the enthusiastic response we got let us know we were onto something.

AV: I’d also say when we were lucky to be invited right after to HR World Congress in Europe. There are so many unique perspectives in the different global regions so getting an early read on what Europe would need to find HROS useful was vital. I would also say any moment that our community picks up the torch and runs with things. Leela Srinivasan, who is a volunteer, was the first person to run our meetup events and several volunteers came up with the idea around sparks. Any moment of shared building.

What's your advice for new HR practitioners?

LS: Make sure you prioritize education and networking. It’s an incredible time to work in this field. A diverse network will inform and inspire you, and making sure you’re continually learning will give you an edge in your development. Most importantly, approach your role with empathy.

AV: The first is to learn the long-term drivers of your business and people before you try to build something for them. The second is that you do not have to have all of the answers, but will be expected to leverage any resources available to bring potential solutions to the table. The third, and most importantly to me, is to enable collaboration, compassion, and connectedness to your organization and community around you. I believe this is what will shape the future of HR and recruiting the most.

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