Tag Archives: metoo

“Sex, Lies and Human Resources*”

*Note: Not my title. This is a quoted title of an article on page 240 of the March 2018 edition of Marie Claire. Featured on the front page, no less.

When I first started in HR, no one knew who we were. Heck, we weren’t even HR back then. In 2005, popular business magazine Fast Company brought HR into the spotlight, in a not-so-gracious way, with a cover story stating “Why We Hate HR.” One of the more pithy comments was:

”The human-resources trade long ago proved itself, at best, a necessary evil — and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules resists creativity, and impedes constructive change.”

Some may chastise me for a 13-years-old reference, however, ten year later Harvard Business Review again spotlighted all that is wrong with HR, dedicating a whole volume to their perception that “It’s Time To Blow Up HR.” It doesn’t take much time to see that the complaints are pretty similar to those made in Fast Company in 2005.

I’ve talked about the indictment of HR frequently, including a chapter in my 2018 book “Leading an HR Transformation.” I’ve gotten feedback from some prominent HR theorists that HR has come a long way, and we are no longer the necessary evil.

Okey dokey.

So why does the March 2018 joint article in Marie Claire and Esquire read, “Sex, Lies and Human Resources?”

Interestingly, the article barely mentions HR. It advises to let HR know in writing if you are a victim of harassment. That’s it. Quite appropriate. But I’m left to wonder why HR gets star billing on Marie Claire.

Here is my theory. HR, me included, has allowed our profession to let executive leadership delegate responsibility for employees’ (and leaders’) behavior to us. We have not pushed back. We have sponsored all sort of performance management, leadership development, and culture change programs to arm-wrestle leaders into leading appropriately, and so have earned the responsibility for behavior. They said, “you want it; you got it!” And ever since we have been playing the role of trying to get leaders to lead.

The risk associated with inappropriate or illegal behavior has been our “ticket to influence,” and we’ve ridden the wave. We have used compliance as our hammer, and it has not served us well. The risk was elusive; it was too easy to say, “It isn’t happening here.”

Heck, popular fashion magazines like Marie Claire even think HR has the responsibility, and therefore can fix the problem.

I made the statement in an earlier post that we have to give this responsibility back to its rightful owner – the leadership of the organization…ultimately, the CEO. With today’s #metoo climate, we have some wind beneath our sails, and this is the time to give it back.


Here are three things HR can do to get moving ahead with giving it back.

Be Knowledgeable

Learn everything you need to know about the governance of your organization. Boards of Directors’ antenna are up and should be. A Board of Director assumes fiduciary responsibility for the organization. This means that they are accountable for identifying risk areas and overseeing risk management. In a publicly traded company, they must inform shareholders of all information that is relevant to the evaluation of the company. In a non-profit organization, Board members are the fiduciaries who steer the organization towards a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission.

The CEO and executive team report to the Board, and unless they have had their head in the sand for several months, recognize the behavior of leadership as a possible risk. Understand that risk, and frame it as such. You can’t do that without clearly understanding the governance structure of your organization. Follow your Board members and know their leanings. Then speak from the knowledge that you understand the risk and want to make sure that your executive team does, as well.

Be confident and unemotional

The topic of inappropriate behavior may provoke emotion, but that will not serve HR well. Bottom line – this is a business issue and should be treated as such.

Emotionalism scares the heck out of executive leadership, and it is easy to write it off as “a bee in someone’s bonnet.” Talking to executive leadership about a risk having to do with inappropriate behavior deserves the same research, rehearsal and presentation skill as presenting a change in benefits’ vendor.

Do good research and separate fact from hearsay. Hearsay may be important, particularly if it is frequently similar, but make sure you represent it as hearsay. Provide the resources for your research if not obvious.

Prepare the CEO or executive team; don’t spring an important business discussion on them without warning. Let them know that you have a serious issue to discuss and that you need their undivided attention. Treat a behavioral situation as it should be treated. Seriously.

Give the responsibility for the risk back

This will take some preparation if your executive leadership thinks that HR is responsible for behavior, and it may take time. Start by identifying their interest, whether financial, reputation, career…what is important to them? As leaders of the organization, what is their desired outcome for the organization? Ask them, or read the Annual Report – their interest and their desired outcome is typically part of the CEO’s introductory letter.

Talk with them about what HR can reasonably do to help them achieve the desired outcome. Provide some examples of risks that may influence the outcome and ask what they believe HR’s role should be. If the response is that HR should talk to the offending individual, ask how well they would receive someone outside their direct line giving that feedback. Once they accept that they need to handle a specific incident, offer to help them prepare.

When they agree that they need to take the lead in a more systemic action, offer to provide a proposed approach. Then keep the dialogue open.

Don’t give up

By approaching this with confidence and facts, HR has a solid chance of giving back to executive leadership the responsibility for inappropriate behavior. Even if they agree that they should take responsibility, it may take a while for their actions to take hold.
If you forget to follow up, they may forget to take action.

Organizational misbehavior is in the spotlight, and this is the time to raise consciousness on the part of the executive team, and help them to identify and mitigate any risk. It is a business issue, not a soft or fluffy issue. The consequences have suddenly become real.

Consequences for Inaction. Finally.

You may have missed this; I almost did. It was just a page 9 article in our local paper. The title was “Weinstein Co. board fires president David Glasser ‘for cause.’”

I had no idea who David Glasser was; I’d become pretty familiar with the name “Weinstein,” so I stopped to read the article. Here’s what caught my eye.

“New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman singled out Glasser [in a lawsuit filed against the Weinstein company,] accusing him of not responding to complaints to the company’s human resources department about Harvey Weinstein.”

So, it goes on to say…

“The board of the Weinstein Company has unanimously voted to terminate David Glasser for cause.”

Glasser had been on tap to replace Weinstein as CEO – the New York Attorney General apparently had other ideas. The article goes on…

“The COO David Glasser, who supervised the human resources department, did not stop this discrimination, harassment, and abuse, even though he was in charge of handling dozens of shocking complaints.”

Okay, you get the idea. Weinstein was fired for his actions. Glasser was fired for his inaction. This is a momentous occasion in corporate America.

The firing is also somewhat of a vindication for human resources. We have been accused of doing nothing to stop the highly inappropriate behavior being uncovered every day now. Back in December, I was fed up with HR taking the rap, and suggested that they push back responsibility for this horrific behavior to executive leadership and not allow themselves to be put in a position of accountability. Sounds good, but really, how do you do that when the executive leadership is the problem?

Today we see our first real consequence for executive leadership doing nothing to stop illegal behavior in their organization. The article doesn’t say it, but “for cause” typically means the board has no obligation to honor any severance agreements that Glasser may have had. True, he probably has a pretty healthy savings stashed away so that the harm may be minimal. But this is PRECEDENCE.

How can HR take advantage of this precedent?

This is the time to resurrect the data HR may have, either formally or informally. HR has the data. It is either in their employee relations files, chatter within the organization, or it may be lurking in the results of an engagement survey.

If HR raised it before and no action was taken, chances are executive leadership may perk up a little more if it were brought up within the context of the #METOO movement, and particularly David Glasser’s dismissal.

What are the signs worth reviewing?

Prior complaints

Unresolved complaints about a manager who is still in the position bear revisiting. Has the manager cleaned up his act? Great. If not, what does his boss intend to do? The boss may have a slightly more open mind to HR’s coaching, given the lay of the land today.


Significant turnover in a department is a red flag. A red flag does not mean something is wrong; it means there is an anomaly; something is happening and it is important to find out what that might be.

If it is a new manager taking over for a lackadaisical team, the turnover may be appropriate. If there is no apparent reason, it bears a little research.

  • Walk around the department. Are folks open and friendly? Do they look like they want to tell you something, but don’t?
  • Take a look at the comments on the engagement survey. They may say a lot, or they may be completely silent. Either may be meaningful.
  • Look at performance reviews. Do you see signs of favoritism? Retaliation?
  • Talk with the manager. Is he open to your questions and observations? If so, great. If not, and you are concerned, take your concerns up the ladder, with a copy of the Glasser article in your back pocket.

The Glasser situation is a big deal

It is a significant precedent, but one that could easily be ignored. Don’t let that happen. Share the article with your commentary to your fellow executives. Your message is either “We’re in good shape,” or “We are vulnerable.” Back that latter statement up with facts. Then ask them what they are going to do about it.

This isn’t yours [HR] to fix. The responsibility belongs to executive leadership. The responsibility for whether or not executive leaders are clearly aware is yours.

In Glasser’s case, it was NOT doing something that was very, very wrong.

Graphic:  Calvary Chapel Fullerton blog