July 28, 2011 Leadership, Management

HR’s true role

I’m always amazed by HR people who are not only great at what they do for organizations and employees, but what they do for the leadership as a whole.  In a recent article by Tim Sacket, he really puts the role of HR in perspective at least for me.  Tim is convinced that it is HR’s job to make sure all departments are working together for one overriding shared goal or sense of purpose. Well, plenty of HR professionals out there would tell you that is management’s role, not HR.   So, should we leave it to the other leaders in the organization?  The problem we face by demanding this of other leadership is they get lost in their own department or groups, individual goals, and have a hard time understanding, or even knowing, what the goals are of the other functional areas of your organization. Someone has to own it, to make it happen – that is where HR can be very valuable.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an insightful article at the New Yorker called “Connecting the Dots” that looks at a number of historical scenarios in which could have been stopped or changed significantly, if someone would have connected the dots (think 9/11 type scenarios!). Gladwell doesn’t look to place blame, he looks to discover the truth and how, if we get another shot, is a better way to do it all over again. In his article he points out how competing interests, and in an organizations case, and competing groups can cause a failure in connecting the dots that could benefit everyone involved.

Think of a classic HR problem? Some senior leader comes down and is adamant on stopping Turnover (or some other metric they believe will solve all of problems.   Emergency HR meetings take place. SWOT teams are formed. Councils are created. There are No Sacred Cows. Change must happen. They want to see blood in the Hallways. Now.

So, we do stuff. We do stuff that will stop Turnover, or fill critical openings, etc., etc., etc. And it “fixes” the problem.  And, Leadership is Happy. That is until we see the fallout from the changes that were made – and there is always fallout.  It’s a tough organization problem to stop.  Why because it takes leadership that is not willing to go from one extreme to the other every time a problem pops up, and that has strong enough communication and foresight to understand that the dominos they tip over today, will knock over some more tomorrow. But it helps if there is a voice of reason yelling from the back row of the conference room (a brave voice – I might add!). It also helps, if we in HR can lead by example – and stop in our zeal to correct a problem, create more problems for the future.  HR owns the role of connecting the Dots for our organization. Someone has to do it – I pick us. We tend to be the voice of reason anyway, so it fits. But go into this role eyes-wide-open, it won’t make you popular – no one likes a voice of reason when there hell-bent on change, but eventually those will half a head on their shoulders will figure out your value, and that’s more important than popularity!