The following post first appeared on the XpertHR website on 10 November 2010 as part of their series If I could change one thing about HR. The website gives job hunters an insight into what the professional HR community is thinking. Handy for when you’re plotting your strategy and tactics.
The article appears again here by kind permission of XpertHR.
In a longish and moderately successful career in public service I have worked to one guiding principle.
Never let an absence of knowledge prevent you from expressing an opinion.
My adherence to this principle may explain why my career is now hurtling into the buffers of redundancy.
So when I was invited to contribute to this excellent series of posts about HR I did not hesitate. Never mind that some of the foremost HR thinkers and practitioners of our times had had a go at this subject. I set to one side the uniform brilliance of each of their contributions. And, true to the Corinthian spirit of the times, I thought I’d give it a go.
I did do some market research though. I asked a select list of colleagues who are operational managers of one description or another for their views. Ambushing them at drinks machines, in cafeteria queues or in car parks I asked them, ‘What’s the one thing you would change about HR?’
After a baffled silence and, in one instance, a request for me to ‘stop being weird’, I got a variety of responses. Here’s the top five. My colleagues said HR should:
· make an effort to understand our problems;
· stop complicating our lives;
· not make things worse;
· not cost so much; and,
· be abolished.
Now I can hear the sharp intakes of breath from here so let me reassure you. These are not bad, mad or sad people. They are ordinary folks managing budgets and managing people in circumstances that are getting harder and harder. They feel under siege.
Now I know our HR teams feel the same way. I spoke with our employee support team yesterday and heard a long-known voice on the other end of the ‘phone tell me about her life.
‘It’s all leavers and counter-notices,’ she said. ‘It’s grinding us all down and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight … This isn’t why I wanted to work in personnel … And, of course, none of us know what is happening to our jobs.’
It was a sad conversation but I have been having quite a few of these recently. What I have also been having though are conversations with people I manage that are getting angrier in tone. Aside from the natural feelings of folks who have been told they are not wanted anymore what causes most angst just now are things like this:
· Cold impersonal communications: Is it impossible to write in a human way while still complying with legal requirements?
· Being asked to do daft things: Why try to insist on carrying on with business as usual when it isn’t? Say ‘no’ to exit interviews or performance reviews for folks being made redundant.
· Including the soon to be redundant in round-robin missives about the problems that will hit the organisation after their notice date: THEY DON’T CARE.
· Failing to deliver on promises: If you have said you will do something, offer something or arrange something then do it.
· Expecting people to put their interests on hold while you sort out your processes. When you’re being made redundant you put you and your family’s interests first. People should not and will not hang around while management makes decisions at its same old stately rate of knots.
Now I try to see things from both sides. I’m a senior manager overseeing not only the redundancy of the people I manage but also my own demise. And I know that even the best HR practitioners can not always prevent executives from doing stuff that is plainly insane. So I truly believe that the manager and the HR professional are, in the phrase for our times, ‘in this together.’
I feel a chorus of ‘The farmer and the cowboy’ from Oklahoma coming on.
Seriously though it feels to me that if ever there was a time, in my part of the world, for managers and HR to make common cause this would be it.
So you’ll be pleased perhaps to hear that I am not going to advocate HR be abolished though I was interested to see some of you seem quite keen on this.
No, my one change would be this. For HR never to lose sight of the fact that the H stands for ‘human’.
I’m a person and an employee. So are the individuals I manage. Increasingly though we are thinking of ourselves less as the latter and rather more as the former. So HR colleagues need to get to us via that tack rather than appealing to our diminishing instincts as employees. When HR colleagues are next dusting off some bit of process to deploy pause for a moment to ask how a person, a real life human being, would feel to be on the receiving end? Remember you can always ask a non-HR friend.
All together now …
HR and the manager should be friends.
Oh, HR and the manager should be friends.
One likes to push a pen, the other likes to cause a row,
But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.
Ordinary folks should stick together,
Ordinary folks should all be pals.
Managers dance with their HR pals,
HR chaps with the management gals.