Last week I was thinking about a conversation at work that had really got my goat. It was one of those conversations that happens without warning, that you participate in and then when you walk away you stop and think, “how on earth did that happen?” And the more you think about it, the angrier you get and the more unfair the situation becomes.
That conversation happened over ten years ago.
I can remember it clearly, the room, the time of day, the individual involved. I can remember coming away and tasting mustard in my mouth – a sure sign that I felt distressed by the experience. And to this day I hold a feeling of unjustness about the circumstances.
I’m quite clear that I need to let go.
I should probably listen to the advice that I give to my kids when they tell me about someone saying something unfair – you have a choice, you can say something and challenge the person about what they’ve said, or you can move on and let it go. There’s nothing in-between that will help you.
I often see people at work who are still hung up on a conversation or situation that happened in their work history. They hold onto it but fail to do anything positive about it, instead it becomes a limiting reminder of how the universe is unfair. It becomes an anchor, unhelpfully holding them to a specific moment of time.
Being able to let go and move on is critical to remaining open-minded, to learning and growing, to progressing and developing. It is key to our mental wellbeing. So if there’s something that is holding you back, talk about it, get it off your chest, put it in the ground and then tramp the earth down. You’ll be better for it, believe me.
I read this post recently, by my friend Sukh Pabial on whether Learning and Development should be part of “HR”, or should be a stand alone function. It is a debate that raises its head on a regular basis and plays out in both L&D and Recruitment and Resourcing. With Brexit like certainty, the proponents promise abundant riches if only we were able to stand alone.
The first issue with the argument is that it never clearly defines, “HR” and instead homogenises everything else into a faceless mass that is responsible for all ills. Are we talking about employee relations, recruitment, succession planning, compensation and benefits? What exactly do they mean by “HR”?
The second issue is that it ignores the interconnectivity that is critical to successful people management in organisations. There are fundamental connections and interplay between L&D and resourcing and reward. There are issues that are raised through employee relations cases that directly inform the learning and development agenda.
Finally, it fundamentally limits the value of the L&D function by diminishing the influence, reach and resonance. In the same way that the UK risks diluting its international influence through separation from the EU, the fragmentation of the people function would fundamentally do the same.
The key in all of these issues is building better understanding, closer alliances that act in the interests of all parties and a united front that acts in the best interests of the people that we are there to serve, our employees. Not silly little tittle tattle arguments of importance that are better off left in the playground.
I was pondering this weekend on the essence of getting things done at work. Organisations are brilliant at creating structures and processes that are well-intentioned but can ultimately get in the way of actual activity. When things aren’t working the way we want, we lay another process on top to try to make sure that we get the intended result.
All of which led me to sketch out the following:
Which I think lays out the fundamentals of successful organisational activity.
Ultimately we want to have strong data and insight that allows us to understand the challenges and the options available. We need simple decision-making forums that allow the data to be discussed and actions agreed, which then have clear ownership. Wrapped around this we need to have an acceptance of accountability, responsibility for performance and the need to communicate and collaborate.
Everything else is just noise.
Seems simple when you write it out like that, doesn’t it? Or maybe I’ve missed something along the way.
I have a confession to make. When I hear about an employee that we’ve let down or treated badly, it hurts me. I can’t stand to read or hear about cases where teams that I lead and manage have fundamentally failed in their key responsibility to manage the employment relationship of every single employee well.
It goes without saying that we cannot always please everyone, there are moments in the work of HR and people professionals where we have to handle the most difficult of workplace issues. We are the ones that enter into situations of high tension, emotion and anguish so invariably there will be times when people are upset with the messages that we have to convey. I’m not talking about these situations, I’m talking about when we fail to care.
When I was doing my professional qualifications in the 1990s, care wasn’t a word that was used much in the classroom. We talked about commercial acumen, strategic thinking and human capital, but we didn’t talk much about looking after people. Nearly twenty five years later I can tell you that the worst HR professionals that I’ve seen are the ones that don’t see the human in front of them and the best are the ones that enter every interaction with the intention to care.
As I’ve articulated many times before, our role is unique in the organisation and we should revel in that distinctiveness. As marketing teams champion the voice of the customer, we should be able and willing to champion the voice of the employee. That doesn’t mean we become unable to act in the interests of the company, of shareholders or of any other stakeholder group. It means that we create balance.
Every time we let an employee down, we let ourselves and our profession down. The phrase the customer is always right, is trite and incorrect and similarly the employee is not always “right”, but how we handle the interaction, the relationship and the management of people in our organisations should always focus on the central pillar of care.