HR needs to man up

Written by
Chris Roebuck

29 Jan 2016

29 Jan 2016 • by Chris Roebuck

HR need to be change makers

On several occasions over the past year I have seen HR teams change  course, stop doing certain activities and have a crisis of confidence as a result of “feedback” from a few in the organisation. Let’s be blunt about this, if we in HR see ourselves as catalysts and enablers of change then that’s going to invite negative responses to what we do. The facts are simple – during change there will be some who don’t like it and will try to block or discredit it. Equally there will be some who will support it and maybe a majority who will be sceptical but persuadable.  

This goes to the heart of what HR must do – yes we must listen but our response to what we hear must not be to panic at the first sign of dissent if, within the wider picture, support exists and the outcome we seek will help the organisation be better. Yes we must keep it simple and focus on enabling the organisation to deliver what it has to do and no more; no over complicated “best practice” that alienates the people we are trying to help. But reacting to the “noise in the system” about HR is always counter productive. We always say to those we are training in appraisals that they should present clear factually based evidence for what they say and with that suggest a way forward. So why should not we expect those who comment on what HR does to adhere to the same rules.
There is a difference between “noise in the system” produced by a few voluble individuals who often have a reputation for their noisy behaviour and consistent feedback from a wide variety of sources. We cannot allow the greater good of the organisation and the “many” to be sacrificed to the perspectives of a few no matter how passionate or voluble they might be.  

This lead onto the courage we have to do the right thing as professionals. If what we do as HR is coming in for criticism from a few individuals who are causing noise in the system and that might not enhance our reputation in the short term but where what we are doing is supported by the silent majority and is improving the organisation what should we do ? 

Should we take the safe course to protect HR and give in to the critics or should we face them down, despite further criticism and do what’s right for the wider organisation not just HR ?

Should HR take more risks?

I can recall at least two occasions in major organisations where critical change initiatives that would have significantly benefitted the organisation were stopped because HR didn’t like the “heat” it was getting. Fine, if that’s the way we respond then let’s not do change in HR, let’s hand it over to another function who has the determination to carry it through despite the objections. In that sense I have worked with 4 finance functions of global organisations in the past year who are taking over the mantle of change from the HR function as they think that they have the ability to deliver better then HR does. So be warned the assumption within HR that we are the natural home for the delivery of change is now being challenged due to our failure to deliver change effectively in collaboration in the past. Yes if the change is for organisational benefit the CEO and board need to back HR up but in some cases HR backs down before escalating to the CEO which is counter-productive long term as is gives a “green light” to resist any HR proposal in the future.   

Also isn’t the whole point of change that it will reveal the people that don’t want to change or can’t change. And isn’t it natural that these people will do whatever it takes to protect their vested interests.  Further isn’t it the role of senior HR leaders to challenge the voluble critics to provide both evidence for their assertions, evidence of their support base, and a potential solution to achieve the same objective via a different route? We keep saying feedback should be “constructive” but then often fail to demand that others live up to those standards.    

Yes if we get things wrong we should be criticised, yes we should be held to account, yes we need to do the best for the organisation and the majority of its people. But in the process of achieving that we must expect criticism and we must not just “roll over”. We owe it to the “many” not to let the “few” divert us from delivering for the greater good. Those few should be challenged to join the movement for improvement rather than sniping at it from the outside. If they fail to take up that challenge maybe they should be asked if they still want to be part of the change at all. Change and improvement can’t be delivered keeping everyone happy.

We in HR need to accept that and deal with these challenges both professionally and with determination and courage.