Do You Know How to Read?


Do you know how to read?

Are you sure? Because the #1 skill for HR professionals, beyond the skills associated with the HR Competency Model, is the ability to read. If you have gotten this far, you are probably thinking you've got that covered. But do you? Do you really? Reading is more than stringing consonants and syllables together, it is knowing what you are reading and knowing just how to read it.

Knowing what you are reading

Documents come in all shapes, sizes and levels of importance.The Code of Federal Regulations, the Master Agreement, and the Americans with Disabilities Act are big deals. A department's standard operating procedure, a letter of instruction, or a smoking policy are little deals.

Look at the document in front of you. Is it a must do, should do, or a consider-only-if-the-feeling-moves-you type of a document? Is it promulgated, precedential or proposed? Is it a draft, a directive or a final decision sustained on appeal? Is it an exception, an exclusion or subject to expiration?

Does the document even apply to the question or issue at hand? Stop right there and don't reference, redact or refute it (or go any further) until you are sure.

Knowing how to read what you are reading

In most cases, you read a document from left to right and front to back unless, of course, you are reading a government document. Then you go front to back,to and fro and criss-cross references until you are tangled in a web of detail. Regardless, there are somethings that hold true across documents.

Process steps numbered 1-2-3-4 are sequential. That means 1 is to happen before 2 and 2 is to happen before 3 and the process is not complete until you finish the final step. Two items separated by AND means that they both are included. Two items separated by OR means only one item is necessary. The all-time tricky AND/OR combination pretty much leaves the option up to you, the reader. Sub paragraphs lose their meaning when separated from the main paragraph and contrary to popular belief, not all sub paragraph As are created equal and are not interchangeable. Get my drift?

References are cited for a reason and provide a backward trail of information. Follow them until you've gone full circle and end up right where you started. You have to know where you came from to know if you are headed in the right direction.

Knowing why this is important

HR is not a one-size-fits all profession nor are documents one-size-fits-all answers to questions. Documents are printed in black ink on white paper but don't be fooled, they are anything but black and white. Documents are not complete and final answers and I'd say that HR professionals who disagree with me are doing themselves a disservice.

So, do you know what you are reading now? You are reading a blog by an HR professional who is not an expert but is one with an opinion and a hot button (can you guess what it is?) You can take this in tongue-in-cheek, as it was intended, but please do so with a touch of seriousness.

Do you read me?