By Brian Kreissl
I remember one senior HR executive talking about how she wanted to ensure HR professionals at her organization weren't viewed as “the shoemaker's children.” The idea is — just like the proverb about the shoemaker's children who go barefoot despite the fact their father makes shoes for a living — HR shouldn't be seen as having inadequate people management practices while coaching and training managers at the organization on how to manage people effectively.
Despite the fact HR is usually tasked with furthering organizational excellence, fostering enhanced employee engagement and promoting best practices in people management, I find the HR function often doesn't quite practise what it preaches.
While it certainly isn't the case with the HR department here at Carswell — which is great — the tension in the air is often palpable when I walk into some HR departments. Although people are usually friendly and polite, a certain sixth sense tells me all is not right at some of those departments. I suppose what I'm detecting is a certain amount of phoniness and unresolved conflict lying just beneath the surface.
Dread coming into the office
In one HR team where I worked, I could tell right away something just wasn't right. For some reason, I almost always dreaded coming into the office there. In the year-and-a-half I worked there, I was constantly on edge and never able to truly be myself.
In retrospect, I believe there was a fair bit of jockeying for power and status among members of that team. It was also a pretty hierarchical environment and I was unfortunate to be one of the more junior members of that team. Looking back, it was a really thankless job, in an environment where several more senior people seemed to lord over others the fact they outranked them by two or three grade levels.
I overheard one person complain about the transactional nature of my background soon after I started in the role. And another person asked me what the rest of my day looked like at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon before dumping a three- to four-hour project on my lap that was due first thing Monday morning.
I wish I could say they were isolated incidents but those types of things happened quite regularly there. Interestingly, I worked in at least three other HR teams at the same organization that weren't quite like that.
HR people a ‘funny bunch’
Years ago, when I was still in the process of making my decision to go into the HR profession, my mother warned me HR people are a "funny bunch" — even though she was a payroll supervisor and reported to someone in HR. I was actually afraid to tell my father I wanted to go into HR because he found the same tension at some HR departments he worked with and was pretty vocal about it. (In the end, he actually thought it was a good idea for me to go into HR because he knew it would be a good fit for my background.)
If HR is going to be taken seriously and be viewed strategically, it needs to get its own house in order before lecturing others about shortcomings in their people management practices, organizational inefficiencies or non-compliance with organizational policies and practices. The HR department is no place for bullying, harassment, gossip, backstabbing, rudeness, hoarding information or old school command-and-control style leadership.
As a profession, we also need to work at being more genuine. While I know we're supposedly all about people, sometimes it doesn't seem that way. Plastering a fake smile on your face and speaking in a condescending tone of voice while leading employees through a cheesy “icebreaker” game that treats employees like children while making them roll their eyes doesn't make you a “people person.”
Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.