Let’s be brutally honest…

hr director gossipFast Company has a very cute article, “Brutally honest versions of your job titles.”  I smiled through “Brand Ambassador = Professional Conference Attendee,” and “Social Media Strategist = Person with the Twitter password.”   I suppose that since I do not work in one of those professions, I could chuckle a bit, understanding the subtle poke at their work.

Then I came to “HR Director = Gossip Coordinator/Instigator.”  Aw no – that’s hitting below the belt.  That is the antithesis of everything that anyone in Human Resources hopes to be.  Our world revolves around confidentiality, and here is a popular business magazine calling us gossips and instigators.  There are a lot of “names” I can rationalize because I know we sometimes fall into the trap – Party planner, Evil HR lady, and “oh oh, here comes HR – someone’s gonna be fired.”  But not “gossip.”

This bothers me.  Granted we struggle with being strategic, with being real business partners but I believe, with a few shifts in our work, we can achieve that partnership.  If we are seen as gossips however, we are doomed.

I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that the author of this article must have had one particularly bad experience with confidentiality and HR, thus decided to be “brutally honest” and label HR as a gossip.  Surely, this is an isolated instance and limited to this author.  Surely, this is not a pervasive perception of our profession.

We have to do something about this, folks.  We need to work together to change the image of HR, or we are forever doomed to a Dilbertian existence.  How can we do that?  Perhaps there are some immediate actions we can take….

Acknowledge the special circumstances surrounding the role of HR in an organization.

We know more about the people in an organization than any other group.  We know their salaries, their family members, their family status, their performance, their work problems, their work history – everything.  This is a serious obligation for us and places us in a realm that is different than any ordinary employee.  We are trusted with this information, and therefore should be completely above reproach.  Whether or not we divulge information isn’t relevant; if it is perceived that we divulge information, we have violated that trust.

As HR professionals, we can’t be part of the crowd.  We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Be the keeper of the values of the organization.

Not only must we hold ourselves to a higher standard, but we have the opportunity to raise the standard for the organization by influencing leadership to see the value in their people.  We must walk a fine line between being an advocate for the people, and being an advocate for the business and this is a tightrope that is difficult to maneuver.  The bottom line is, everyone in an organization is there to support and drive the organization forward, otherwise, there is no job.

We have to help the organization discover what is important, and stand by those values.

We may not be liked

Being an effective HR professional may not get us liked, but if our decisions are made to make people like us personally, they will likely be the wrong decisions.  We need to put aside personal needs, and make business decisions that are right for the organization and for the employees.  Too many of us came to this profession because we are “people people.”  HR is about the business first.  The work of the people part of HR IS business work.

I don’t like seeing my profession represented this way, and I suspect I am not alone.  This is a call to action.  Let’s change our reputation, shall we?

So What If He Lied About His Degree…

diploma_hat_graduation_800_clr_8164The New York Times ran an article about yet another successful, high profile sports coach who has been caught lying about his credentials. NYT writer Juliet Macur interviewed Coach Steve Masiello a few days prior to the revelation that he had lied about having a college degree. He got caught, as others have, with a background check as he started a new job.

During the interview, Masiello preached accountability and described how he had learned the importance of accountability from an early mentor. So my question is, “what, really, is accountability,” and “to whom is one accountable?”

Masiello is not the first coach to be caught in the same lie, although others seem to have sloughed off the stigma and recovered nicely. Per the article, George O’Leary survived the embarrassment of being proven a liar by Notre Dame only to bounce back and bring the University of Central Florida into the football spotlight.

As Macur reflected on the interview and the revelation, she was struck by the incongruity of his words. When one statement is a lie, can you believe subsequent statements? Perhaps that’s a rhetorical question; perhaps not.

There are 51 comments on the article. What baffles me is that the comments are so diverse. Many call Masiello “scum,” “slimy,” and “fraud.” Others completely missed the crux, and disputed facts having nothing to do with Masiello. Still others didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I find that baffling. There was one comment that stood out to me.

“What are you people upset about? That he didn’t have a degree or that he lied about it? Everyone lies. He just happened to get caught. Lack of a degree didn’t seem to hamper Gates or Jobs, did it?”

Oh my. I guess I had a hunch that people felt that way, but to write it for the world to see? That’s a bit frightening. He’s still missing the point….it isn’t the degree that is at issue, it is that he said he had one when he did not. This is a material lie when you think about who he is coaching – young people pursuing the same degree he claimed.

Let me take this back to the world of business, which is my venue.

Almost every organization that posts guiding principles and values touts “honesty” or “integrity” among them. So at what point are people held accountable for violating those values. That, my friend, IS a rhetorical question but one on which anyone in the business world should spend some time reflecting.

We learn honesty as children. We are taught that by our parents. We tell the truth even though there might be bad consequences for us because telling the truth is a fundamental value. At that point, we learn trust.

In organizations, we say we want trust. We say we want honesty. But at what price? What are we willing sacrifice if we find we cannot trust? Our top sales person who got there through deceptive means? A top designer who “borrows” a design? A trader who makes millions for the company walking on the wrong side of the rules?

I have been in organizations that struggled with this question. I have also been in organizations that don’t struggle with the question at all. Individuals who are not acting honestly are gone. Period.

People learn from others and from the culture. What are people learning in an organization that rationalizes dishonesty and provides no consequences?

Those words of principle and value on an organization’s wall have got to mean something. They have to be the principles that are carried out in every organizational dealing, not just when it is convenient. If not, they are simply empty words and empty words cannot foster trust. I do worry a bit that we are becoming complacent with empty words.

“To think like men of action, and to act like men of thought!”

I have always attributed who I am today, to what I learned in six years as a U. S. Marine.  Even though I couldn’t compete with the young women who join the Corps today, I am proud that I survived OCS (and survived is the operative word), and learned what it really means to be a leader.

general mattisGeneral Jim Mattis, USMC(Ret) was head of U.S. Central Command and awarded the 2014 Semper Fidelis award in February.  In his acceptance speech, he described being a Marine.

“To think like men of action,
And to act like men of thought!
To live life with intensity,
And a passion for excellence.”

That is the Marine Corps.  That is what I learned as a young lieutenant, and what was confirmed as I progressed through to Captain.

“To think like men of action,
And to act like men of thought!”

I get frustrated when those who have not served think of the Marines as roughnecks out for a good fight but without a lot of brains behind the brawn.  And I have heard that description more than once.  I also bristle when people think that leadership in the Marine Corps is “command and control,” rather than participative. Continue reading