The HR Journey – Are We There Yet?
The word ‘journey’ should probably only be used if you’re talking about how someone got to the Olympics, or to Mordor. And yet I’m using it here because I’ve been thinking about the rhetoric and reality of change and transformation.
We are awash in voices and content calling for change in Human Resources (this blog is a tiny example). Business media regularly report the lack of trust that employees and CEOs place in our profession. Professional conferences speak to us in the language of transformation, revolution, and disruption; of putting humanity back at the center of our workplaces. The clamor for change isn’t new, and it’s hard to tell if it’s actually getting louder. Perhaps it’s just that my ears have grown accustomed to listening for it.
Where Are We Heading?
The bold language that one encounters online and at HR events would suggest we’re on the cusp of a new era in HR; one in which we bridge the gap between strategy, technology, and people. Is this rhetoric based in reality? If not, is it a necessary precursor to real change? Where are we actually heading?
Gary Basin says that there are two ways to answer such a question (emphasis mine):
“You can speak of where you want to go. This is the story you tell about your Self — usually, a story that allows you to look good and feel proud. To some extent, this story is wishful thinking. But not completely. By putting aspirations into words, we nudge ourselves towards acting in their direction. If only by suggestion, or when we are otherwise indifferent between two actions. On the margin, this story we tell starts to influence the choices we make.
Alternatively, you can answer the question of “Where are you heading?” by looking at the actions you take. Assuming you knew nothing about yourself — and had no access to your stories or aspirations — except the visible actions you took today, yesterday, last week, and last month… where does it look like you are heading? Even better, if you have the courage: ask someone you know relatively well where they think you are heading.
The distance between these two answers is a measure of how much you are fighting yourself.”
We can examine the idea that we might be “fighting ourselves” from two vantage points. The first is whether there are factions within the profession that disagree about whether and how it should change. While HR is a loosely defined occupation which varies significantly depending on organizational context, I see very limited evidence that this is the case. You would be hard-pressed to find an individual HR practitioner who would disagree with the notion that we should be less bureaucratic and administrative, more transparent and human-focused.
The second way to see it is that we are each fighting ourselves. That is, it’s one thing to nod and cheer at ideas like ‘more human workplaces’, ‘self-management’ or’ designing employee experience’ when they are stated in the abstract. In reality though, these require us to loosen our grip on the practiced and pernicious approaches embedded in the HR function: standardization, policy, compliance, efficiency, optimization, and hierarchy.
HR professionals have spent a couple of decades calling ourselves ‘business partners” and getting “R.O.I.” tattooed on our forearms in the hopes that maybe, finally our colleagues might consider us to actually be full members of the business. Swinging the pendulum back to a more nuanced and human-centered approach sounds great, but it also requires us to risk that objective.
The Risk of Taking the Journey
Everyone wants change, but no one wants to change.
From Jocelyn K. Glei’s podcast ‘Hurry Slowly’:
“We tell ourselves that we can’t….At a deeper level, underneath all that, there’s the second factor: fear. What will happen when we do this thing we always talk about? What if I fail? What if it’s disappointing? What if I change?
There’s the risk of taking the time, and then there is the risk of taking the journey. The risk that if you finally do this thing, you’ll be transformed, and transformation isn’t always comfortable.”
I write about this topic and these themes all the time, but I realize that makes me more responsible, not less. Being aware and urging change isn’t change, acting differently is.
I think that as a profession, HR still has a lot to do to close the gap between where we say we’re heading and where our actions have taken us so far. But it has to start with each of us making material changes.
The Commitment Engine
I’ll be attending a number of HR conferences and learning events this year, and I’m going to be making a 30 day behaviour change commitment after each one. Since I happen to be part of an organization with the mission to make learning actionable, I’m going to be using our commitment engine to help me apply a key take-away from each event and stay accountable for making a corresponding change in my behaviour in the 30 days that follow. And I’m going to invite you to join me (whether you were at the conference or not).
I’ll be at WorkHuman In Austin early next month, and I’ll be sharing my 30 day behaviour change commitment, as well as a link so you can make your own 30-day commitment using Actionable’s platform. Stay tuned!
Read this Week:
The Case for Science-Based Hiring – Natasha Ouslis
Natasha’s inaugural blog post is a slide deck summarizing 100 years of research into which hiring practices predict how people will perform on the job, and which don’t. Spoiler alert: “Which Disney Princess are you?” does not make the cut.
“This field has been busy for more than 100 years, testing out different hiring practices to see which ones work to predict how people will really do on the job, and which ones don’t.”
Diversity and Authenticity – Katherine W. Phillips, Tracy L. Dumas, and Nancy P. Rothbard, Harvard Business Review
This was an eye-opening read that highlighted the nuances I suspect are often overlooked when it comes to the practical tactics of fostering a more inclusive workplace.
“Decades’ worth of studies have shown that similarity attracts—a phenomenon known as homophily. Our research focuses on a specific aspect of this: That being one’s true self, disclosing elements of one’s personal life, and forming social connections are easier within one’s own group than they are across a demographic boundary such as racial background. This is crucial to keep in mind as companies aspire to become more diverse. Simply hiring members of a minority group won’t ensure that they feel comfortable or equipped to build the relationships necessary for advancement. And as companies invest in mentorship and sponsorship programs, making these relationships flourish among workers of differing races may require special effort.”
Bro Culture Led to Repeated Sexual Harassment, Former Google Engineer’s Lawsuit Says – Kate Conger, Gizmodo
The most recent high-profile allegation is against Google, and follows an all-too-familiar arc, including the part about their HR department. I continue to believe that a major lever in addressing the pervasiveness of workplace sexual harassment is changing the approach and orientation HR has to complaints, and the awareness of retaliation, in its many forms.
“Google’s human resources department pressured Lee during a series of meetings to make a formal complaint about the incident, she says. But she was frightened that a complaint would only generate retaliation from her coworkers, she says—and video had emerged of the incident, her lawsuit states, so she didn’t think that she should be required to make a complaint. When she refused, HR cited her for “failing to cooperate,” her lawsuit states. Lee says she finally relented and made a complaint, which Google then failed to investigate, the lawsuit states.
Lee’s male coworkers retaliated against her after the complaint, her lawsuit says. They refused to approve her code and stalled her projects, she says, making it more difficult for her to succeed at work.”