We need to embrace the truths that hurt

I’ll start off by explaining why I do the job I do. Simply, I want people to have a better experience of work, to feel safe at work, to be fairly rewarded in exchange for their efforts. You can call it making work better, making work human or any other nomenclature that is in the current vogue.

One of the downsides of my role is that no matter how hard I work, no matter what improvements and changes we make, there will always be challenges and questions about where we could have done more. That’s just the nature of the work we do in the society that we currently live in. The challenges will be different, but we have to accept that no matter what we do, it will never be enough.

One of the downsides of this is that we can homogenise criticism of our practice as always being unfair. “That’s employees for you, never happy” or, “If managers just did their jobs, we wouldn’t have to deal with any of this”. And the danger of this is we fail to see the truths that we need to embrace.

Just because we will always be the focus of challenge doesn’t mean that some of it isn’t justified. Just because we are doing our best and trying our hardest, doesn’t mean we don’t get things wrong. Just because we want to do good, doesn’t mean we sometimes don’t wrong.

Knowing how to separate out the noise from the real issues is critically important and incredibly hard. Listening to the truths that hurt is at the heart of exceptional practice. If we want to be better, if we strive to be the best, if we believe in creating something that can be called a legacy, then we need to recognise that sometimes we get things wrong.

Ours is a profession that has the ability to transform lives and bring out the best in people, it has the ability to make society a little bit better and to impact on generations to come. But with that power comes the potential to do the absolute opposite – and that is the truth that we should always hold close to our heart when we evaluate our impact and work.

7 tips for better HR practice

  1. Express a view – don’t fall into the trap of, “it’s my position to advise, you make the choice”. Not only does this annoy managers, it also disempowers you and makes you inessential. Why bother asking you if that’s all you do? Don’t be afraid to express a view and explain why you feel that way, even if others don’t agree no-one will ever disrespect you for having an opinion.
  2. See the person – its easy to get into the view that you need to be commercial, tough and driving the agenda of “the business” and forget about the primary aspect of your role. You can be all of these things and still see the human impact. Never forget to see the person in all choices and decisions, that is your unique lens.
  3. Don’t hide behind policy – similarly to “only advising”, hiding behind policy disempowers you. We know that there are good reasons to have policies, but you need to be able to explain why they’re appropriate and useful, not just quote them. Most decisions will always lie in the margins.
  4. Avoid the gossip – you will be party to important, confidential information throughout your career and how you use it and react to it will determine your professionalism. Avoid gossip at all costs, lead with integrity and dignity and never ever use knowledge as power.
  5. Write for your mum – when you commit anything into writing, ask yourself how you would feel if your mum or dad, or significant other were to receive the letter. Is it clear, does it show the tone and warmth you want it to? Could someone understand it who had no technical knowledge or background? Does it make sense?
  6. Seek to understand – in pretty much any situation there will be information and then THE information. Seeking to understand, to explore and asking good questions will help you to better lead a situation. Assume not only makes an ass out of u and me, it also leads to poor decisions.
  7. Language matters – You are not HR and they are not THE BUSINESS. End of.

It doesn’t hurt to be kind

A lesson I’ve learnt as I’ve got older is that kindness is a very different to softness. Too often, images and predetermination of the role of HR professionals can make the young practitioner shy away from kindness, fearing the tag of being soft, weak, indulgent – typical personnel.

This is a complete misunderstanding of kindness.

You can be kind as you break some of the hardest messages to people, deal in the most difficult of situations. You can be kind as you lead others through troubled times. You can be kind in every aspect of your work, no matter how trying or hard.

Being kind is to show consideration for others – that is at the heart of our practice and what we do. The antonym of kind isn’t tough, it is cruel. There is no reason that you cannot be both tough and kind, in fact I’d argue that’s in many ways aspirational.

As we go about our practice, whether you’re a human resources professional, a manager or leader, we can all take time to be a little bit kinder, no matter what the context. By putting ourselves in the position of others, by displaying empathy and understanding, we can help not only to achieve better results, but to learn and grow ourselves.

Kindness in business is not a dirty word, it is the secret that too many overlook.

 

The 7 qualities of exceptional practice

  1. Creativity – Whilst it might seem a strange one to start the list with, the ability to bring creativity into design and problem solving is one of the aspects that really sets exceptional practitioners apart. We can all suggest something we’ve done before, but can we imagine the new?
  2. Empathy – I’m really clear that this is different to sympathy – the cross that the profession has to bear. I’m talking about the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others and consider the evidence from their perspective and to understand their lens.
  3. IQ – Sure, I know this isn’t fashionable, but I see a simple link between intellectual horse power and performance. It isn’t enough on its own, but without it you’re surely going to struggle.
  4. Curiosity – The people who excel are fascinated about learning more and constant discovery. They ask questions, explore and see opportunity in every circumstance. They’re restless and intellectually always on the move.
  5. Structured – I’ve written many times about the benefit of systems thinking in the world of work and the ability to structure and think systemically is key. This doesn’t mean that you need to be PRINCE2 qualified or an engineer, but you need to understand how things fit together and how to get started.
  6. Courage – This manifests in different ways, in the ability to have brave conversations, the comfort in being vulnerable and the drive to constantly want to do more and be better. Courage means that we address ourselves as well as others.
  7. Humility – Most of our practice is not about us and we need to be ok with that. We need to bathe in the glory of others, be proud of the contribution we’ve made and enjoy the success that we help build. Our gift is helping others to be the best they can be, not owning it for ourselves.