Get HR Streetsmart

1. Raise the white flag

Last year many HR departments had a rough time with restructuring diahorrea, protracted projects, cracks in performance management and a crisis-a-day, Not to mention the blame game with line management and staff over pedestrian results. I suggest that you raise the white flag without delay. Invite those that are harbouring old quarrels with HR to a white flag presentation, join them for lunch in the staff canteen and schedule face time with affected individuals. Do the unthinkable: take responsibility for your your shortcomings and generously give credit where it is due. Heal those relationships before the challenges and deadlines arrive on your desk. 

2. Provide January & February relief

When staff trickle into the office this month they are unlikely to be celebrating another 52 week rat race in your company. January is a long month if you are cash strapped after the festive binge, worrying about school fees, running low on annual leave and asking those prickly questions about the future of your career. How can your HR department assist staff over this bumpy period?  You will quickly set a positive tone for the year and score lots of brownie points too.

3. Cut the bull

I have to be blunt. The modern corporate is a breeding ground for the English language to be distorted beyond meaning – latest buzzwords, catchy phrases and word pursuits. Look for the Scrabble champions in your office. Faulty logic is also used to conceal past blunders and justify current decisions. In one FMCG giant, the HR Director has retained an obsolete HR system for years using faulty logic to defend a costly white elephant. HR professionals can lift the productivity bar by verbally stating ‘cut the bull’ whenever there is an attempt to obfuscate issues. Strive to be the champion of clear, simple and succinct communication. Caution: May produce nasty side effects when HR are guilty of distortion, confusion and chaos.

4. Overcome the Dilbert and ‘worky’ principle

A bit of history. During the 1970’s, the ‘Peter Principle’ by Dr Lawrence J Peter, stated that competent employees are promoted to their level of incompetence. If the ‘Peter Principle’ seems depressing, it is actually worse today –  in some workplaces, you will have difficulty finding competent employees for a promotion. In the 1990’s Scott Adams’ ‘Dilbert Principle’ grew in popularity, claiming that incompetent employees are moved to management where they supposedly do the least damage. In practice, they inflict maximum damage on the organisation. This is a recurring problem in the public and private sector, aided by nepotism and window dressing for employment equity purposes. Hoping to add a historical footnote, a few months ago, I wrote about the ‘worky principle’ in another media article. The essence of the worky principle is that those in positions of leadership, authority and trust, such as directors, management and HR, don’t do what they say at work, because they know the truth. For example, the HR department at XYZ Company says that they value people and will expound volumes on it. Their HR department knows the truth from their own experiences and executive tone: people are dispensable. Period. Consequently the company continues to devalue people through their business decisions and practices. I doubt that you can overcome the Dilbert and worky principle in a year but even small gains will enhance HR credibility.

5. Understand the business

It is an obvious yet overlooked point. How many HR professionals in your department from the Executive to the trainee, truly understand how the business makes a profit?  5%, 10%?  Then wonder why there is a Grand Canyon divide in convincing line management of the latest HR bright idea. Go ahead, push the financial buttons this year. Try to decipher the figures in the annual financial statements, interpret the financial indicators, dissect the sales targets and analyse employment costs. Ask line management for assistance and you may be surprised with their eagerness to explain the numbers. Then talk to them about recruitment, performance and retention issues in the context of the business. You will achieve results without having to twist their arm.

To bring these tips to fruition, be prepared to rattle the cages inside your organisation. Have fun and watch your back.

(HR Future, January 2007)

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