Are you an HR snowflake?

Life is full of debate and discussion about issues and events. One of the joys of being social animals is the ability to express, challenge and build on the opinions of others. But always respectfully, thoughtfully and decently – no matter how robustly.

And business, like life, can be tough. There are a lot of great professionals working in-house that know how to navigate through their environments and to ultimately be successful. But the spectrum goes from some of the most inspiring colleagues I’ve worked with to those that frankly weren’t renowned for their thick skins.

Wherever you work in the broader HR family, you live and die each day based on your ability to perform in the environment in which you work. We know that we will be challenged daily and have to be robust in our pursuit of success. It isn’t a place for the weak-willed or the fragile. Not if you want to succeed.

Being robust, being willing to express a point of view, but also remaining open to challenge and being willing to listen, learn and amend your perspective is crucial. Closing off contrary viewpoints, becoming entrenched in blinding self conviction is a critical failure.

I particularly find it interesting that in areas of the profession that will talk about learning, growth mindsets, curiosity and development we so often see the opposite. If we are to be credible and valuable, then we should always stand up and practice what we preach. Not run away.

Don’t be an HR snowflake. If someone challenges your world view, take time to consider, question yourself and their perspective, recognise it as a chance to learn, grow and adapt. You have a choice, to listen, or to disengage. The successful will never, ever choose the latter path.

Pay to play

There is work, then there is the other stuff. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call that “play”. Play is everything else that you do in your life, the hours that you use at your discretion (parents and carers, I know it doesn’t always feel like this!) for things that matter to you. For the majority of us, we need to work in order to be able to play – it pays the bills, affords us the chance to do other things and allows us to eat drink and sustain our existence.

So which one comes first?

As a kid I was brought up to believe that you couldn’t have what you didn’t earn – you did without until that point. It is a belief that I’ve carried with me ever since. It is a value that drives both my work and play, and the intersection between the two.

You want a promotion, or more money? You get your head down and work hard.
You want a holiday to your fantasy location? You save until you have enough to treat yourself.
That promotion is more likely if you don’t take a holiday at that time?

I question whether this is a value set that is firmly set in the past.

There are people who will say that you should make your work your play, but that’s frankly a patronising, middle class, privileged perspective. Most people don’t have a choice about the work they do, how they do it and where or when. They work because they need to.

But in a world that increasingly seems to offer an unfair deal, are people right in looking for more for less? If your current deal is so woeful, why wouldn’t you strive for much, much more? An if it means cutting corners, if it means taking a step more than you’re ready for, if it means getting now and worrying later, then what’s the harm?

I’m not talking about a generational trend, I think this is a change that has been coming for a long, long time. The inequality that exists, drives behaviour that compensate.

When we talk about work ethic, we talk about with a critical tone. But rarely do we combine it with corporate ethic. The replacement of career paths, pension schemes and security of employment with engagement, discretionary effort and doughnut days has repercussions beyond the individual organisational context.

Work to play? Maybe we’ve thrown it away once and for all.

Analyse this…

Data comes in many forms. Yet our obsession seems to be clearly focused on consolidated numerical information. Often called BIG data, but ultimately more analytics.

Other than the wonderful ability for the profession to follow a trend, I can’t help wondering how much the data argument is a result of the deconstruction of our profession.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the use of analytics and data in helping to understand and resolve challenges and issues. I’m not against the use of them to help us to identify trends.

I just wonder whether we’re trying to get back, something that we needn’t have lost.

The trend of HR structures has been fragmentation and the repeated calls is for more. Resourcing want to be a stand alone function, learning want to be one too. Talent, leadership, OD, what’s next?

The fragmentation of the HR model is something that I’ve written a lot about before, but is another consequence of it a loss of understanding of the state of an organisation and a need to somehow compensate through apparent “intelligence”?

Evidence starts with what we can see, hear, feel and experience. It starts with our understanding of the environment, when we segment that understanding, we lose knowledge and intelligence that cannot be compensated for.

When I started my HR career we used to know the people that we worked with and supported, we knew who they were, where they came from, what they were paid, how they performed and what they wanted to do. We recruited, trained, supported and developed. We knew which roles were hard to fill, why and what the organisational implications were.

But I fear much of that is now gone.

As we move inevitably forward, we need to ask ourselves how much is really new, how much is really advancement and how much is trying to reclaim the things we’ve thrown away before. Looking back has negative connotations, but sometimes it is the only way we can make sense of the right way to step in to the future.

Care just enough

How many times in life have you put off doing something because of the perceived consequences, only to find out when you did take the action, that it wasn’t so bad after all?

It’s a tricky thing about leadership – the multiple demands on emotion and energy that can make sometimes even the most straight forward of decision, feel just a little bit too hard. And as outsiders we look on and think, “that’s obvious, why aren’t they doing something about it?”

This situation is amplified when it involves decisions that materially impact other human beings. Whether it is a promotion, a restructure, a performance issues or a reward challenge. We can look at this situation with our own lens and see our own version of perfect clarity, but we will never see the situation from the leader’s perspective.

As a partner or advisor to that leader, our job is to seek to understand, to help, to support, to maintain forward movement and prevent emotions from getting us stuck or avoiding the challenge. Most people understand on a rationale level the things that need doing and the decisions that need taking, but they get complicated by the feelings, emotions and fears.

As a leader, our job is to care enough, but not too much. We shouldn’t eschew all reference to the personal or the human, we should recognise that part of what allows a leader to truly own that title is their ability to feel. At the same time, we need to recognise when we’re allowing “emotion” (and I use this term in a more scientific, rather than literary sense) to prevent us from acting in line with our beliefs.

Where people are involved, there will always be difficult decisions to be made and there will always be outcomes that are less desirable than others. There simply is no other way, regardless of the rhetoric that is sometimes easy to believe. And leaders and their advisors, being human beings too, will bring their own emotional frameworks, relationships and history to any given situation.

Caring at work is really important. We just shouldn’t let it get in the way.