Carol Kulik on HR for the Non-HR Manager

In this episode of Department 12, Dr. Ben Butina interviews Professor Carol Kulik, co-author of the book Human Resources for the Non-HR Manager. Dr. Kulik discusses the importance of HR for all managers, even those who don’t have a formal HR role. She also talks about the importance of making HR research accessible and applicable to everyday practice.

Dr. Butina and Dr. Kulik also discuss the challenges of writing a book that is both academically rigorous and engaging to read. Dr. Kulik shares her insights on the importance of finding your voice as a writer and how to write for a specific audience.

Finally, Dr. Butina asks Dr. Kulik about her thoughts on the convergence of HR practices across different countries. Dr. Kulik discusses the similarities and differences in HR practices around the world, and she offers her perspective on the future of HR management.

Key Takeaways:

  • HR is important for all managers, even those who don’t have a formal HR role.
  • HR research should be accessible and applicable to everyday practice.
  • Writing a book that is both academically rigorous and engaging to read is challenging but rewarding.
  • It is important to find your voice as a writer and to write for a specific audience.
  • HR practices are converging across different countries, but there are still some important differences.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are some of the specific ways that HR is important for all managers?
  • How can HR researchers make their work more accessible and applicable to everyday practice?
  • What are some of the challenges of writing a book that is both academically rigorous and engaging to read?
  • How can writers find their voice and write for a specific audience?
  • What are some of the key similarities and differences in HR practices around the world?
  • How do you think HR management will evolve in the future?


This transcript is AI-generated and may contain inaccuracies. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

00:00:00 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Hello and welcome to Department 12 where we talk about everything, IO, psych. I’m your host Doctor, Ben Butina. And joining me today is Professor Carol Kulick, research professor of Human Resource management at the University of South Australia. How are you today, Carol?

00:00:16 Prof. Carol Kulik

I’m really good. How are you doing, Ben?

00:00:18 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

I’m doing really good too. Thanks for ask.

00:00:20 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

So along with Alyssa Perry, you co-authored a book called Human Resources for the non HR manager which is now in its second edition. So let’s start here.

00:00:30 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Who is this?

00:00:31 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Book for what do you mean exactly by the non HR manager?

00:00:36 Dr. Carol Kulik

That’s a great starting question. Then whenever I’m asked that question, my answer is always I wrote it for my brother in.

00:00:44 Dr. Carol Kulik

So my brother in law’s name is John, and when he graduated from.

00:00:50 Dr. Carol Kulik

He got a job working for a steel company in Chicago as a salesperson, and so his responsibility was selling steel products, industry clients. And it turns out that John was great at his job.

00:01:05 Dr. Carol Kulik

He was kind of a natural salesperson. He was really good at getting to know customers and understanding their needs. And he was so good at his job that he got promoted to sales manager.

00:01:19 Dr. Carol Kulik

And that’s when he started calling me and he would he would ask these questions like Carol, I don’t understand it. I hired these people who were great on paper, and now that they’re on the job, they’re just not working out.

00:01:33 Dr. Carol Kulik

Do I do?

00:01:34 Dr. Carol Kulik

Or Carol, next week I have to do performance reviews and what do I do when somebody really isn’t performing well and I have to give them negative feedback, but I don’t want.

00:01:43 Dr. Carol Kulik

To demotivate them or.

00:01:45 Dr. Carol Kulik

The worst call of all was when he said Carol, the steel companies in financial trouble, and next week I have to go in and tell my team.

00:01:54 Dr. Carol Kulik

That half of them are going.

00:01:55 Dr. Carol Kulik

To lose their jobs.

00:01:57 Dr. Carol Kulik

And I just realized that there are so many people like my brother-in-law. John, you know, I don’t think that most 12 year olds or 15 year olds wake up in the morning and say, ohh, I can’t wait to be a manager, right? People end up in managerial roles and they realize that they’re doing HR on the ground. They’re managing people.

00:02:17 Dr. Carol Kulik

Every day. And they’re not. They don’t get the kind of preparation that they.

00:02:20 Dr. Carol Kulik

Need for it.

00:02:21 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Suppose that you go to bed tonight, but when you wake up tomorrow morning, you’re in a different world. It’s exactly like our world, except that everyone in your target audience has read this book. Human resources for the non HR manager.

00:02:35 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

And they’ve applied what they’ve learned. So how is that world different than the one we live in now?

00:02:41 Dr. Carol Kulik

I think it’s.

00:02:42 Dr. Carol Kulik

A world that is much more mindful of the implications of people management. You know, I think a lot of managers act directly from their gut.

00:02:53 Dr. Carol Kulik

They go on their instinct and we know that in a lot of cases, our instinct can mislead us. I think that if individual managers knew a bit more about the research and could apply the research in their daily lives, I think it’d make a dramatic difference in terms of employee well.

00:03:13 Dr. Carol Kulik

And in turn make a really big difference in terms of workplace productivity and performance.

00:03:18 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

You talked about the references like if you could help new managers especially understand sort of the research. And that’s one thing you notice about this book right away is that it is extremely well documented, especially for a book that’s written for, you know, popular audience presumably. Was there any, like pushback from a publisher or anything?

00:03:38 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

About that app.

00:03:39 Dr. Carol Kulik

Well, I don’t think there was much pushback because this is a second edition and we knew that the 1st edition had found a niche, had found interest. I think what’s really important about the book as you described is that it kind of straddles the line. There’s plenty of research in there.

00:03:59 Dr. Carol Kulik

But we tried to make it really conversational. We wanted it to be the kind of book that my brother-in-law John could pick up as he.

00:04:07 Dr. Carol Kulik

Did it.

00:04:08 Dr. Carol Kulik

And find the relevant content.

00:04:11 Dr. Carol Kulik

And know that there was depth of science behind it.

00:04:14 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

When I got a review copy of the book, as I often do when I’m bringing somebody on as a guest, my intention to be 100% honest was to skim, you know, just to skim the book and see, you know, what I could glean from it that could help do some some research on the interview. But, you know, I read the preface and the introduction, and I just started going and I couldn’t stop. And I realized, like.

00:04:34 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

This is really good book for an audience that I care an awful lot about, which is new managers. And it’s funny that you should mention your brother-in-law, John, because the.

00:04:44 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Other sort of use.

00:04:45 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

For this book that I thought of is.

00:04:47 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

This would be great for answering those kinds of questions from people who know that you’re and I have a psychologist, but don’t realize that you’re actually, you know, just an expert on this little tiny corner of the whole domain. They think, you know, what’s your advice? Your evidence based advice for me as a manager, period. This would be a great book to have at your side.

00:05:07 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Doing so, so picked up on something there.

00:05:09 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

There’s very conversation.

00:05:11 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

You know, and at the same time, extremely like rigorous and well documented. I had asked earlier. I think you know, was this ever adapted like a training program and you mentioned that it was almost born out of a course, wasn’t it?

00:05:24 Dr. Carol Kulik

Absolutely. Ever since I started my academic career, I’ve been teaching mostly MBA audiences and you know, MBA is a very generalist kind of degree.

00:05:38 Dr. Carol Kulik

Most students take a class couple classes in management. Some classes in finance, some classes in accountancy.

00:05:45 Dr. Carol Kulik

And a lot of those people don’t really see management as their core focus, right? You know, they they have a particular interest in, like I said, finance or accountancy or something like that. And so I always felt that the courses that I was teaching in human resource management in diversity management and those kinds of topics.

00:06:06 Dr. Carol Kulik

They were courses that students didn’t necessarily see the value of in the moment, but five years later they’d say Ohh, thank goodness. We covered that in my course, so I started trying to keep track of those things and thinking about different ways to translate our research to an audience that didn’t see themselves as human resource managers that didn’t.

00:06:26 Dr. Carol Kulik

See themselves as having that identity.

00:06:28 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Speaking of books and writing books, what do most people misunderstand about that process?

00:06:33 Dr. Carol Kulik

I think people think that writing a book is a really fast process.

00:06:40 Dr. Carol Kulik

And it certainly wasn’t in my case. Maybe I’m a particularly slow writer.

00:06:46 Dr. Carol Kulik

But I think it takes a while to find the right shape of an individual chapter. I think that’s one of the things that will listen. I do quite well together.

00:06:56 Dr. Carol Kulik

We share a general vision. We’re both really interested in.

00:07:01 Dr. Carol Kulik

Making sure that the research is very translatable and reaches the right audience, Alyssa works in a program at Teachers College.

00:07:10 Dr. Carol Kulik

Columbia University, where a lot of her students are not going to become academics, they’re going to go out into professional roles. And so she’s, she always has that kind of translation focus. One thing is this idea that it’s a slow process. You have to keep talking it through. You have to really know where it is that you’re trying.

00:07:31 Dr. Carol Kulik

To get to. But the other thing that I’ve learned about writing a book then is that once you find your voice, that voice, like, really sticks with you.

00:07:39 Dr. Carol Kulik

So I was really pleased when you told me that, you know, you got caught up in the book and you were actually kind of reading it rather than skimming because we really did want it to be conversational. We wanted it to be the kind of book that you could sit down with a cup of coffee and actually enjoy reading as opposed to kind of slogging through a text book. But now that I have that.

00:08:00 Dr. Carol Kulik

Voice. It’s very hard to put on my academic voice for writing for an academic journal. It all comes out a little.

00:08:08 Dr. Carol Kulik

Chatty conversational.

00:08:10 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Well, I.

00:08:11 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

00:08:14 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

To see more journal articles written in the kind of style that you’ve adapted for the book, this is the second edition of this book, and I think that one of the the changes or updates that that you and Melissa made for the 2nd edition was a little more focus on international HR. I wonder from your perspective is is human resource management?

00:08:34 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Converging and becoming more homogeneous, like internationally.

00:08:38 Dr. Carol Kulik

Let me think I’m out for a minute. Maybe maybe.

00:08:41 Dr. Carol Kulik

Alright, directly answer your question. Let me just sort of comment that I was writing the 1st edition when I was still based in the United States and then the book came out and I moved to Australia. And you know how there is that saying about how a fish doesn’t know that it’s wet? I think that’s a really good saying.

00:09:02 Dr. Carol Kulik

For people who make international moves, you know, until you make an international.

00:09:06 Dr. Carol Kulik

Move. It’s really hard to appreciate how much your viewpoint has been affected by the place you were located. And so I think that in IO, psychology and human resource management, I think a lot of times we don’t realize how much our perception of that.

00:09:26 Dr. Carol Kulik

Activity is colored.

00:09:28 Dr. Carol Kulik

The country that we’re working in, so I didn’t really appreciate how much my perception of human resource management was being affected by my understanding of United States employment law.

00:09:41 Dr. Carol Kulik

But when you can get some distance from that, you realize that even though different countries have different laws, they’re kind of based on the same principles. So for example, we talk a bit about downsizing in the book and if I was just writing for an American audience, I’d be talking about the Warren Act.

00:10:01 Dr. Carol Kulik

Right. And you know how much advance notice?

00:10:03 Dr. Carol Kulik

You have to go.

00:10:05 Dr. Carol Kulik

But really, that’s just a specific example of trying to give people enough notice that it feels fair and that they have time to prepare for what they need to do, or taking the time to think about the criteria you’re going to use to identify the people who you’re going to have to give the bad news to.

00:10:13 Ben Butina, Ph.D.


00:10:25 Dr. Carol Kulik

And so I think that thinking about the book for an international audience has really motivated us to go back one step further and say, well, it’s not about the law, which the law is often seen as a constraint. It tells you what you can’t do. But going back to the principles which I think is a much more positive and proactive message, right, here’s what you’re trying to accomplish.

00:10:48 Dr. Carol Kulik

In each situation. So that’s kind of my take.

00:10:52 Dr. Carol Kulik

Where the international piece fits in.

00:10:55 Dr. Carol Kulik

My sense is that the different laws are based on similar principles, so maybe you’re right. Maybe it is becoming a bit more homogeneous. How does?

00:11:05 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Sort of fit into your overall career, so you’ve got a ton of publications. You do research in the areas of, you know, older workers, mature age workers.

00:11:16 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Better working arrangements in in light of, you know COVID-19. How does all this fit in for you?

00:11:21 Dr. Carol Kulik

That was a lovely example, Ben, by the way, just a vocabulary in the United States, we tend to say older workers mature age workers is much more likely in Australia. You know, it kind of starts to.

00:11:34 Dr. Carol Kulik

But I think that the book is a really good illustration of something that’s a common thread throughout my work. I’m really interested in understanding how we have these really big problems. You know, we often talk about the grand challenges of employee demographics, changes in the labor force.

00:11:55 Dr. Carol Kulik

Big pandemics like COVID and how that dramatically changes the workforce.

00:12:01 Dr. Carol Kulik

But I feel like you have to sort of couple those big challenges and the big solutions with the really small things that individual people can do on the ground.

00:12:12 Dr. Carol Kulik

You know my LinkedIn profile. I have this little tag line about how we’re making the world a better place, one workplace, one manager at a time, and.

00:12:20 Dr. Carol Kulik

I really do.

00:12:20 Dr. Carol Kulik

Believe that you know I I think that the the common thing across all of my researches. So what can an individual manager do given that you’re working in an environment that’s super complicated?

00:12:33 Dr. Carol Kulik

Where there’s been these major disruptions and I think line managers in particular have.

00:12:38 Dr. Carol Kulik

It really hard.

00:12:40 Dr. Carol Kulik

Now we know and there’s there’s great data on this. That line managers today are supervising more people than managers that came before them. They’re doing it with smaller budgets, but they’re doing it in much more complex work environments. So to me, it all kind of hangs together pretty well.

00:13:00 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

I know that your undergraduate degree is in industrial and organizational psychology, but your doctorate is in business administration. Is that right?

00:13:05 Dr. Carol Kulik


00:13:09 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

That’s right. What are the differences between those two worlds?

00:13:12 Dr. Carol Kulik

Yeah, that’s a really great question. It’s something that I really grapple.

00:13:16 Dr. Carol Kulik

With when I was making the decision to go to Graduate School, my PhD is in business administration.

00:13:25 Dr. Carol Kulik

But I was trained in a department that had a very psychological focus, even though it was based in the Business School, and I got both of those degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and so literally was moving from one building, the psychology building.

00:13:45 Dr. Carol Kulik

And walking like two or three blocks down to the business.

00:13:49 Dr. Carol Kulik

And yet for me, I was so frightened of that change, right? Because I think sometimes in psychology, we think of the managers as the bad guys, right?

00:14:01 Dr. Carol Kulik

You know, they’re the ones who are making these decisions that create a lot of stress for employees or they’re thinking about company profits and not having enough of an employee focus. And so, you know, you sometimes have the sense that you’re, like, really crossing over to the dark side if.

00:14:21 Dr. Carol Kulik

You move from industrial organizational psychology over to hour.

00:14:27 Dr. Carol Kulik

But for me, that transition felt really permeable and it really made me appreciate that there was so much work being done within business schools under this HR kind of umbrella that was really about making workplaces better. And so, honestly, we’re all on the same side. We’re all trying to.

00:14:47 Dr. Carol Kulik

Accomplish the same sort of thing.

00:14:50 Dr. Carol Kulik

Where I see the real big difference is not in the goals.

00:14:55 Dr. Carol Kulik

But I see differences in the what that we study when I talked to my colleagues who have a more intense training in psychology, I think they’re more likely to study employees. So what are the employee reactions? So they might go out and do a survey of.

00:15:12 Dr. Carol Kulik

Please, I think my colleagues in business schools who have an HR degree are more likely to study managers. So what are managers doing to create those reactions? And so the two things have to kind of converge, right? If we’re going to change workplaces, we have to know what the managerial actions are that create those responses.

00:15:34 Dr. Carol Kulik

And you know, we have to keep moving back and forth. So I think they, they marry pretty well. There’s actually a really good synergy. I think I osyka is sometimes very focused on building the tools.

00:15:47 Dr. Carol Kulik

You know, so designing selection instruments. For example, whereas HR is more about OK, now that I’ve got the tool or you know, how do I choose the tool from a vendor. And now that I have it, how do I actually use it? So it does focus a bit on different steps in the process as well.

00:16:04 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Should I have psychologists care more about labor history than we do?

00:16:08 Dr. Carol Kulik

Yeah, I think that’s kind of an easy class.

00:16:13 Dr. Carol Kulik

I think that in our fields we do tend sometimes to reinvent the wheel, but the wheels get more and more complicated as we go along. You know a lot of my background is in job design and when I go back to some of the classic job design theories.

00:16:30 Dr. Carol Kulik

You know, there’s some pretty basic principles there about what makes work meaningful and rewarding.

00:16:38 Dr. Carol Kulik

And sometimes I look at the literature now and I see those same principles, but they’re getting more complex and I think that starts to make them harder for individual managers, individual organizations, to apply them. So yeah, I think knowing where we came from is is really useful is really important.


What, if anything?

00:16:57 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Do you miss about Pittsburgh?

00:16:59 Dr. Carol Kulik

I lived in Shadyside and one of the things that fascinated me about Pittsburgh is that it was super Neighborhoody.

00:17:09 Dr. Carol Kulik

Every little neighborhood had a really charming name like shady side or Squirrel Hill. It sounded like something out of a Disney movie, like just such such attractive titles for neighborhoods and every neighborhood had its own sort of.

00:17:25 Dr. Carol Kulik

Restaurants and movie theater and personality, and so living in Shadyside. The thing that I really miss was a restaurant called Pamela’s, and they had. And they had the most wonderful.

00:17:38 Dr. Carol Kulik

OK, I ate a lot of pancakes when I.

00:17:41 Dr. Carol Kulik

Lived in Pittsburgh.

00:17:42 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Well, Carol, thank you so much for sharing the story of writing the Book of Human Resources for the non HR manager and and progressing on to the second edition. We’ll have some links to where folks can buy the book and the show notes.

00:17:56 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

And links to your profile out on LinkedIn as well. Is there any other place that listeners can reach?

00:18:02 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

If they like.

00:18:03 Dr. Carol Kulik

So I’d really love to direct listeners to our books website.

00:18:08 Dr. Carol Kulik

Www.nonhrmanager.com and that’s a great place to read a sample chapter. You can browse some of the activities that we’ve developed to accompany the book, and you can reach me or Alyssa directly through the links on the website.

00:18:26 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Great. Thank you so much, Carol and hope.

00:18:28 Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Have the rest of your day is great.

00:18:31 Dr. Carol Kulik

Thanks, Ben. It was lovely talking to you.