As HR Leaders, our portfolio includes many things but significantly, change management, cultural development and/or guardianship, and leadership development. We are often called out of the safety of managing processes and procedures (let’s be honest, that’s not really what drives us anyway) into the murky world of people. Depending on the situation that brought it on, these moments can be entertaining, educational, or, perhaps, daunting and stressful.
We have a role in most organisations as the go-to person for problem solving, whether or not we are personally skilled at that. Some HR practitioners are pure strategist, some pure administrator. The best problem solver is an “impure” practitioner, and by that I don’t mean ethically! The best problem solver is an alloy, a mixture of many things, and able to draw on each of those many different things at different times to be uniquely suited to the diverse challenges of the workplace.
That is all very well when we are solving other people’s problems. But we are also employees and managers, followers and leaders in our own right. We also have STUFF. Stuff that needs resolving.
Sometimes, we are not just facilitating; we are at the very centre of the matter itself. Those times are when our problem-solver skills and reputation are deeply tested, when we are solving the problem that we are also integral to! In MSExcel, this is a crushing defeat known as a circular reference. Unlike Excel though, we are creative beings and are not bound to mathematical limits in dealing with these things. We can feature significantly in the solution to problems and challenges that involve us.
Here are some “what if’s” to illustrate:
- What if we are required to performance manage within our own team – and the poor performance has affected our own reputation or standing as team leader?
- What if we are required to diagnose and resolve a weakness in the leadership culture of our organisation, and our opinion is unpopular with one or more of the protagonists?
- What if we are drawn into conflict because of our role and are required to objectively resolve and guide our leaders through the very conflict that involves us?
- What if our own capacity, competencies and emotional intelligence comes up short and we actually have contributed in some way to the problem?
- What if our personal values place us in tension with corporate actions or ideals, or with the specific actions of other individual employees?
These issues, and many others, can require a great deal from us personally and be pivotal in establishing or damaging HR’s reputation within the organisation. In reality it is these situations that require our best and dropping the ball here is really dropping the ball.
As HR managers, we are more likely than most to find ourselves navigating these waters, so developing the aptitude and the competencies for this is pretty much going to separate the sailors from the puddle-pirates. There is an unwritten rule that the two people who must demonstrate great leadership in times of trouble and provide the stability for others to rally around, are the CEO and the HR leader. I have discovered, in talking to many HR leaders, that in times of trouble, the employees look to the CEO for leadership and stability, and in that same time of crisis, the CEO can often be looking to the HR Leader for exactly the same thing!
For most of us, no-one really coaches us to excellence in these areas, and natural gifting is rare. If we have a mentor or a coach, we are in the smart minority, but frequently we are simply on our own, working these things out alone in our own minds and then trying to solve the workplace dilemma that is facing us and our organisation.
I don’t have any slick or great answers, but I want to consider some personal characteristics and disciplines that are profoundly helpful in sailing confidently through these rough seas. Let me say that I am not for one second advocating that we seek out quiet waters to practice our craft, as HR practitioners. Quiet waters do not make for a skillful sailor, and let’s face it, that is not why we were hired anyway.
Over the next few blogs, I will write some thoughts around these concepts.
So, from a somewhat drenched and exhausted sailor looking forward to dry land, to other drenched and exhausted sailors also looking forward to dry land, these are some ideas around “here be dragons” and “here be (hopefully) how to slay them”!