What a great metaphor for today’s Human Resources teams who want to add value to their organizations, but who sometimes sabotage their own success by working in silos and focusing on product rather than customer needs.
Think about it this way. You’re in a boat and you need to move forward. To do that, everyone in the boat must row in the same direction. Sort of like an organization – you have a goal, and everyone needs to work toward that goal.
Sometimes folks get turned around or distracted. They notice something on shore, and lose sight of their goal – to go forward. Sort of like an organization – you become so focused on one product that you lose sight of the big picture. The boat (or organization) stalls, or possibly sinks.
Now of course no one intentionally would stop rowing, row in the wrong direction or even drill holes in a boat, would they? But simple distraction and lost sight of the goal could evolve into actions that jeopardize the organization making progress toward the goal.
And if no one is watching and providing course correction, it could delay achievement of the goal or, at the worst, sink the boat. This is where the leader comes in. The leader keeps the focus, and provides correction back to the goal.
A unique feature of an HR leadership team is that each member has a specialty, a particular expertise that is often quite deep. While expertise is valuable, these silos can evolve into a false sense of autonomy….that one can act unilaterally.
Unilateral action – silo’d thinking – almost ensures a distraction. A change to a system or program, done unilaterally, can cause a tsunami of ripples as everyone scrambles to fix the problems cause. At best, you stall. At worst, you sink.
Drilling the hole
The very autonomy that a senior HR leader gains can very well be the team’s worst enemy. Clearly no HR professional approaches their work with the attitude that they want to mislead, confuse or derail the organization. They really don’t want to drill holes and they, at least intellectually, want to row in the same direction as the rest of the organization.
These unilateral actions that are not fully vetted can cause conflict, obscure or complicate the real work of leaders and employees. In this case, the system gets in the way of the best of intentions. Again, here is the important work of leadership – coordinate the vetting process.
Distractions can be sneaky, and HR professionals may not even see them coming. It might be in the form of a vendor with a cool new software platform, a “best practice” unveiled at a recent conference or a mandate from above to implement a recognition program in order to improve employee engagement scores. The downfall is looking at the system in silos and applying a solution without knowing the problem. Yet another opportunity for the CHRO – solve the right problem.
What can a CHRO do to keep the boat not just floating, but moving forward?
It takes strength and courage to lead a team of senior professionals who are looking to make their mark, and it takes a CHRO who is committed to HR being a business accelerator, focused on achieving the organization’s goals…not HR’s goals.
Here are three things a CHRO can do avoid allowing distractions to foment….i.e., drilling holes.
Collectively, identify the problem.
It is natural to get excited about solutions that have proven successful, particularly when your intuition says you have a similar issue. Resist the urge to jump to the solution, engage the HR team in doing good research, and then share insights and ideas across the entire employment spectrum. Find the real problem.
Dig deep enough to identify a problem that your operational leaders can get jazzed about solving. Generally, if you go to them with a solution for anything other than growing revenue, income or market share, or reducing expense, they will be stifling a yawn.
Share the problem with your customer.
Once you believe you have identified the real problem, validate this with the operational leaders. This is both educational for the operational leaders and effective marketing. It is educational because you are probably telling them something they didn’t have time to think about themselves. The unique perspective for HR is able to see and identify behavioral opportunities that leaders can’t see because they are too close (or they are the problem).
It is good marketing for HR because you are telling them you can solve a real business problem.
Work together on the proposed solution.
Use every talent available within and outside the HR team to vet the proposed solution, looking for conflicts and confusing messages. As an example, if the solution ends up a recognition program, make sure that the message communicated by the new program does not conflict with existing programs. If the new strategy is team, but your rewards are at the individual level, this is a conflict that will confuse leaders and employees.
Check for timing and capacity.
Can leaders and employees do the necessary work? Do they have time? Do they know how? Is there a foundation that must be laid before you can address the proposed solution? This is a great opportunity for HR to be seen as cohesive and truly interested in moving the business forward.
This is the job of the CHRO
The top individual responsible for people programs must create a compelling vision that will generate business success, and to keep the HR talent focused on a cohesive strategy that benefits the organization overall. Sometimes that means saying “No” to bells and whistles that cannot prove to be business drivers and might, in fact, drill holes in the boat. HR has a real opportunity to keep the boat moving forward by focusing on the real problems of their customer, and by approaching the solution in a holistic, cohesive way.
Photo credit: Kim Garst, Boom Social