Today, I literally saw the blind leading the blind.
I was taking some time to "smell the roses" listening to some chilled out music while I thought over my presentation for the HRINZ special interest group - truly at that moment all was right in the world.
I had just hit the sweet spot in my journey (you know the moment where the music you are listening to almost becomes the sound track to your life, and the things that seem like everyday drudgery around you become almost orchestrated and fantastical) when I saw the most inspirational sight. There was a visually impaired women with a guide dog, with the hand of a visually impaired man placed gently upon her shoulder, walking down the street.
It really got me thinking about how this may not have been a possibility even 50 years ago - I mean really, the old saying came from somewhere right?
So, how was it possible now? The answer was pretty simple, it was not really the blind leading the blind, rather the guide dog leading the blind (plural).
Of course, given that I was in the how can we do things better head space, I drew the analogy that, give the person the right tool, and you can get some pretty spectacular results that can challenge assumptions and inherent biases.
Come hear me present at the next Wellington HRINZ Change Management SIG (Special Interest Group) and hear why some change processes fail while others succeed. Common management theories around change are based upon the old adage that if you provide employees with enough motivation around the need for change, they will simply “change”. What happens when change isn’t believed in or where motivation is simply not enough?
I will aim to candidly share some insights where HR can add value within the change process, that seem to have been lost in the noise of on-going, significant, structural change.
Tuesday 13 August - 12.15 to 1.15pm, Chews Lane, Wellington
Over the last week or two I have been on vacation, and this has given me the chance to catch up on all the "nice to read" business magazines that have been sitting in my in-tray. One that I do enjoy reading is the Harvard Business Review, as while it does have a rather North American slant to its articles, I appreciate that many of the issues and themes are universal in business.
I did have a chortle at the statistic presented in the April 2013 magazine that for every hour of interrupted sleep missed the night before, employees tended to spend 8.4 minutes in the course of a 42 minute task "cyber loafing".
I am not to sure if it was because I was out of the office and therefore free to spend some time to be deliberate in my thoughts around what I as reading, but I did find myself getting curious around how researchers discover these links.
Having spent a little time at low level academia (completing my MSS) I am aware that there is a need to present a hypothesis prior to fully researching the topic - i.e. I believe that there is a linkage between interrupted sleep and cyber loafing, and my research will either prove or disprove this theory. I also know that it can be very hard to not predetermine the outcome of the study and therefore find that you inadvertently disregard certain evidence that you come across, as it doesn't fit into the theory that you are trying to prove.
This issue of predetermination is very much human nature and universal in its application. When dealing with an employee over alleged misconduct, it can be easy to jump straight to the end of the process, and in turn make some assumptions that deny the employee natural justice to fully explain or deny the issue at hand.
This can also be seen if we apply the lens of predetermination in a poor performance scenario. Sometimes as employers we can find ourselves making value judgements that an employee who is not performing either doesn't want to, or can't make the necessary changes to improve. Even if a formal process is entered into, it is hard not to then find fault in work done that validates this assumption. And there is nothing more satisfying than being right!
I guess as people managers we not only have a responsibility to bring leadership and management expertise to the table, but we also have a responsibility to leave predetermination and assumption at the door.
The concept of good faith pretty much underpins employment agreements world wide; whether it is provided for in the country's respective employment legislation (such as New Zealand and Australia), or is implied by the act of entering into an employment contract.
Employers can often struggle with the concept of good faith, as many times the requirement to act in good faith generally occurs where the employer needs to make a "business decision" (such as restructuring, redundancy, poor performance etc), and the employees are a secondary component in the equation. Generally in instances such as this, the businesses may seek legal advice, either through their in house HR team or at times independently.
Lawyers have a very specific purpose in this process, and that is to provide legal interpretation around the tolerance for the employer to act within that is provided for in the respective legislation, and to provide legal council and representation should it all go pear shaped.
What lawyers generally are unable to do is to provide the moral and ethical aspects around what good faith means, and this is where your HR partner should be able to step up and assist. A good HR partner should not only be able to advise the employer of the legal implications of what the business is attempting, but should be able to bundle this up within the aspects of what good faith should provide for.
Seeking HR advice at the start means that a business can not only have a higher level of flexibility in the execution of business decisions, with less costs associated for procedurally deficient processes; but can still deal with its employees in a legal, ethical and moral capacity.
So as a starting point, and an introduction to me, I just need to let you all know that I do not believe in "Tea and Tissue" HR. You know the role, where the HR person is predominately the facilitator between employee and employer. This sort of situation means that HR never actually enable the manager to undertake the people management role of their job, and it is my opinion that this unintentionally creates a division between employee and employer.
Do you know what I mean? Maybe the following conversation might help:
Employee - "HR lady, my manager has declined my leave application, and I need to go and see my sick grandmother, please help"
HR person - "That is terrible, sit down and tell me all about your grandmother, you must be in pain..."
HR person to Manager - "Why did you decline employee's leave request, their grandmother is very sick, and it seems a little mean to not let them go see her ... it is not what a good employer would do!"
Manager - "Oh, I didn't know, the employee did not tell me why they wanted leave, of course they can go see their grandmother - I am not a bad manager after all, and I do care about my staff"
HR Person to employee - "All sorted, I spoke to the manager, and they have approved your leave - I hope your grandmother gets better" (cue superhero music...).
OK, I admit it is a little tongue and cheek, but you get the gist.
I have to be honest, I was this sort of HR person, back in the olden days - and I have to admit, it is a pretty powerful feeling :-) You come home exhausted day after day, but pat yourself on the back for all the conflict you resolved. Slowly but surely you start to look at the managers you are assisting as muppets, and wonder just how it is they every got their jobs, and you cant quite seem to understand why the boss doesn't recognize just how critical you are to the organisation.
This sort of HR can add value, and I know some employers really value this type of HR, but it aint for me... I actually think HR can add strategic value to an organisation, you know, increase profits, create better leaders, change the world!!!
Seriously, I know that there is a lot of debate out there, around how HR can provide its services (ie centralised, decentralised, Shared services etc) - but the question I pose to you, is do you think it matters what the philosophical values of HR are within in an organisation?
Not a "tea and tissue" HR person, I actually believe that HR can provide strategic advice of value to an organisation. Not only do I believe HR can, but I actively work to do so.