HR and Empowerment


We have a spent a fair amount of time here discussing how HR can transform itself to be the business leader we are called to be. And, in your last post, you touched on a topic where I think HR needs a change of perspective.
As we discussed personal accountability of the employee, your comments quickly turned to how the organization bears the responsibility for making it “safe” to confront bad management. That’s a bit like choosing not to play a game unless you are certain you will win before you decide to play. There isn’t much accountability or responsibility in that equation on the employee’s side. The reality is that any environment where it’s “safe” to confront bad management probably has pretty decent management already. We, as employees, will get the management we tolerate. Granted, you can’t always confront a bad management situation in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job, but you also have the ability to take your career into your own hands and get the hell out of dodge at that point. At the end of the day, the employee always holds the cards on whether they decide to leave, show up and not do much, or show up and kick ass.
Here’s where I get to the role of HR in this whole equation. HR, when it comes to employees, seems to have taken the approach that their job is to solve employee and manager problems for them. We in HR have decided that great customer service means fostering bad management and lack of accountability across the board by solving these problems for managers and employees. This makes our managers and employees happy in the short term, but it perpetuates the problem long term. In more HR departments, if you have a problem with your manager, HR will hear you out but probably tell you that we really can’t do anything. If a manager has an employee with an attitude problem, we will go talk to the employee for them. How is this cycle ever going to change if we continue to step in whenever things get a little sticky?
Human resources needs to change their approach. We need to adopt an approach of teaching and empowering others to solve their own problems. We can facilitate the process and help lead them to the outcome they are looking for. Take the example above, if I have an employee who has an issue with a manager, I should be first helping them to understand clearly what the real issue is. Then, I help them explore what they might be contributing to the problem themselves. Finally, I coach them on some approaches they might take to tackling the situation on their own with the manager. If they are successful, I now have an employee that is empowered to help their manager manage. The same approach would be equally as effective with the manager with the punchline being that the manager ends up empowered with the tools to handle her own employee without HR jumping in the middle.
This is how the change happens, one person at a time. But, if HR doesn’t both encourage and expect personal accountability and responsibility from employees and managers, we will continue to see the same thing: employees complaining about how bad managers are ruining their lives and managers complaining about employees who don’t get it. It’s up to us to break the cycle.

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