HR: A 10 point agenda for change

If you ever wanted proof of how dismally most people view the HR profession, then you need go no further than this piece from the Guardian online on Friday. What started as a question about working hours, turned in to a free for all regarding the standing of the HR profession. And by far the majority of comments were negative. Here are just some examples,

“…in my company, it’s often the victims of HR that have to stay late to fill in even more paper work, to generate the paperwork that HR needs to dispel the rumor that they have nothing to do all day but generate pointless paper work.”

“Everyone else in your building hates HR for the ludicrous and pointless self-assessments we’re put through each year.

“HR is the weak link in every company; an industry whose only purpose is to justify its own pointless existence. 

Get out while you still can, or face an entire career of being sniggered at behind your back by your co-workers.”

“We all hate our HR department, they send out pointless memos about equality and diversity, and reminders to complete your appraisal/quarterly review etc, just so it looks like their jobs are essential.”

“People in HR departments exist to preserve their pointless jobs by creating work for others to do !
Does anyone know anything worthwhile that HR has done ?”

“my experiences with Human Resources were neither humane nor resourceable. [sic]”

I could go on, but you get the gist. Everybody hates HR.

Now I could put up a stream of arguments that would point out the value of HR, indeed I and a few others did tentatively point this out, but in reality that is an utter waste of time and completely misses the point. It doesn’t matter what WE think, it matters what THEY think and if we are serious about our profession, then we need to take that in to account.

I admit that, in common with a number of other functions, we are in a situation where people don’t understand the value until they really need it and we are often associated with “bad things” that happen in companies. But that is the fact of the matter, we can’t get away from that. We cannot deny reality, we need to tackle it face on.

  1. We need to be resourceful in bringing the right mindset into the profession. We are not a policing function, we are not an administrative function, we are here to provide solutions and facilitate not provide problems and barriers. This mindset is more important that technical skills. If people don’t have it then don’t hire them.
  2. We need to de-clutter our processes and procedures. Enough of the forms, the polices, the bureaucracy. 90% of it isn’t needed and 100% of it is hated, resented and not understood by employees and managers alike.
  3. We need to stop saying “no”. Our language, our communication to the business needs to be positive, not negative. We need to be owners of good news. Deal with problems individually, not by memo. Stop sending out dumb emails, if it isn’t positive, don’t send it.
  4. We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.
  5. We need to cut down the initiatives. Every time we look at something we should clearly be able to articulate why we are doing it and why our organization (not our HR department) wants it. If we can’t, we shouldn’t be doing it.
  6. We need to listen to our employees and our managers. We need to stop seeing them as being “the problem” and start seeing them as being the people that we are here to help. They are the reason we have jobs, so stop moaning about them and start listening.
  7. We need to stop focusing on alleged best practice and start focusing on “best fit” solutions. If our organizations only need a simple solution, then just give it to them. This isn’t about winning prizes at the CIPD awards, or standing up at conferences, this is about making your organization better.
  8. We need to be more human. We need to get out and talk, interact, spend time with people, we need to be empathetic and understanding, we need to feel. Sitting in the HR department bitching is not going to change anything.
  9. We need to stop focusing on cost and start focusing on value. These two things are not the same. Even if cost reduction is on the agenda, look at the value you can get from the budget, the resources. Cheaper and faster do not equate to better.
  10. We need to tell people who do not believe in this agenda that they have no place in the profession. They should find another career voluntarily or we should help them to find one involuntarily. There isn’t a choice to stay the same, there is only the choice to change.

Every single one of us has a responsibility for raising standards and calling others to account when they do not meet high enough standards. Those of us in leadership positions need to set the example. We need to be all over and we need to start now.

This is a repost of the original, which was posted in January 2013. I’m not sure how much has changed in the six years since I wrote it.

Start somewhere

Here’s a bet…

I reckon I could ask anyone in your workplace, or mine, to name one thing that would improve their work or working lives and they’d be able to tell me within an hour maximum.

And of course, if I asked you the same question, you’d be able to tell me too.

Yet we all sit on all of these ideas every day, because;

  • we don’t have permission
  • it’s complicated
  • we don’t have the time
  • they wouldn’t like it

All of those good ideas going to waste and instead we do a whole series of things that we don’t understand the purpose of, can’t define the value of, do because we’ve always done. We knowingly reduce our potential value.

As leaders our fundamental responsibility is to help teams to deliver the value that they hold, to allow them to contribute to the best of their ability and to fulfil their potential. To do this, we need to remove those things that prevent and get in the way.

Whilst changing cultures and refocusing teams isn’t easy, it is the reason we exist and the duty we have. We should ask ourselves, what other better purpose we could serve? Every transformation had a first step, everyone needs to start somewhere.

 

The shadow you cast

A number of years ago I was dealing with the behaviour of an executive colleague. For a number of reasons their conduct had been called into question and we were trying to unpick a somewhat difficult situation. Once it was all sorted I was amazed to hear other colleagues tell me that this had been a repetitive occurrence throughout their career.

Whilst they’d been more junior within the organisation, their behaviour had been an annoyance; troublesome but manageable. But as they progressed through the ranks (one can question the judgment of those that facilitated this rise) it started to be more damaging to the organisation as a whole, it created a bigger impression.

The closer to the sun you climb, the larger the shadow you cast.

I used this phrase last week to talk about the importance of leadership role models. It’s a factor that many leaders forget and therefore undervalue the potential benefit. To put it another way, as a leader you can choose to behave in a way that not only benefits those directly around you, but those further afield in your organisation.

With all the talk of authentic leadership, we forget to explore the reason why. What lies behind the value of authenticity? The simple answer is that people will engage and follow authenticity more readily. But I think it is even more important than that.

I can’t cite the evidence, but I was told recently about a study of people on London buses. They found that when a passenger alighted the bus and said “thank you” to the driver, the probability of other passengers doing the same increased. Similarly, the same has been seen with passengers giving up seats on trains or picking up litter in the street.

And at the same time, we know that if the person carrying out the act is in a perceived position of power, the effect is multiplied.

If you’re a leader in an organisation you have both an opportunity and responsibility to role model the behaviours that you want to see and to encourage them in every interaction. The power goes much further than any leadership development intervention, value statement or strategic model. And even better it costs nothing and can be deployed at will.

So what are you waiting for?

Lead change with care

I’ve written before about toxic cultures, but I was struck by the story that I read over the weekend about the legal case being brought against former executives of France Telecom. I’m no expert on the case in hand, but the story sets out a culture of harassment  through constant change and disruption as efficiency savings were sought.

There’s a huge spectrum ranging from the extreme cases detailed in this story through to the ordinary change of organisational life and we need to be careful not to conflate the two, but there are reminders in the extreme that can help us in our everyday practice. We can all argue that, “it’s not like that here”, but it never hurts us to check and be sure.

The first check point is when we stop seeing employees as human beings. You can pick this up through the language that is used in organisations, the way that senior leaders talk about people as a collective. Most organisational change will have a human impact, but when we fail to genuinely recognise that, problems are not far away.

When change becomes a thing in itself, you’re facing a second check point. Organisations that become focused on change, but without realising why. The impact on people throughout is disorientation and confusion, neither of which are good for mental wellbeing. Most people can go through significant change and transition when they understand the why, but struggle when they feel constantly done to.

Finally, when leadership teams lose touch with their teams you’ve reached the third checkpoint. As a leader you can only make good decisions if you are well-informed. One of the most important sets of data is the feedback from the people who work in the organisation itself. I’m not talking about the annual survey alone, but about the informal feedback that tells you how things really are.

Put simply, leaders have an overarching responsibility for every single employee in their organisation. That doesn’t mean we should avoid tough choices or decisions, it doesn’t me would should be change adverse, but it does mean that we need to care. Hopefully none of us will ever experience the extremity of the France Telecom situation, however, each day as we go about our work, we should always check in and make sure we are staying true to our responsibility to our people.