Fridays are for Fighting – #SHRM11 Edition


Your post from last Friday that it’s time to stop blaming HR for what’s wrong with our organizations stuck a chord with me.  More than that, it fired me up.  I couldn’t agree more that HR isn’t what is wrong with organizations.

The gap for HR is that we either do or should know what to do to transform our organizations.  But, in most cases we aren’t getting it done.  Therein lies the rub.  Most of our corporate leaders don’t get it.  They can’t be the solution or it would already be solved.  On the other hand, HR stands poised with solutions ready to go, but it’s just not going anywhere.  That has to change.

Several weeks ago, I sat in on a webinar presented by Starr Tincup and HRxAnalysts where they presented an overview of some research they did on the human resources community through a massive survey.  The report is called “What HR thinks and feels.” As I listened to overview, a couple of things jumped out at me.  HR pros are highly educated, experienced and motivated.  There is no question about that.  In fact, I would venture a guess that HR, on the average, is one of the most educated professions in business.  So, we know our stuff.  We are also committed to our craft, and that was evident through the tenure numbers that were presented.  But, while most HR pros will report that they think that strategic activities like strategic planning, evaluating solutions, budgetting, etc. are easy to do, it seems the every other week a report comes out citing a CEO survey that provides evidence that we aren’t delivering on those strategic activities.  My point: HR is highly capable, but we aren’t converting our know how into results that the C-suite can recognize and value.  Why?

I think that there are two predominant forces at work within the world of human resources that are holding the profession back from being the transformative force we should be and must be.  Those forces: righteousness and fear.


Somewhere along the way, HR became the corporate police.  We right the law (policy), we enforce the law, and we punish and execute the offenders of the law.  I’m not sure how this happened, but it did.  And, as a result, it’s easy to adopt a mindset as an HR pro that we are on the “right” side of the law and that makes us somehow morally superior to the rest of the organization.  This high-minded righteousness then starts to creep into other areas of our thinking.  We start to convince ourselves that our work is better and more important than the work of other departments.  We also start to judge.  We decide the things like politics and influence are below board and dirty.  We villianize people who work outside the system to get things done (even though their workaround might be better).  And by doing this, we alienate ourselves from the rest of the company.  In a lot of ways, we have pushed away from the table as much as we’ve been kept away by someone else.  This has to stop.

Once we recognize as HR pros that we are business people who have special expertise and skill in the human side of how business runs, we can start to make progress.  We must also recognize that politics and influence and sales aren’t bad, they just exist and can be tools.  It’s when you use these things for immoral or self-serving purposes that they become bad.  Politics is simply how things get done.  So, in order to get things done, you have to understand how to navigate politically.  By ignoring politics, you get run over.  By studying politics and learning how to leverage the system to your advantage, you start to become a legitimate player in the corporate game.  It’s not immoral, it’s smart and it’s how all of our peers in other departments get things done while we sit on our righteous high horse complaining about not having a seat at the table.  We must learn how to navigate the system better in order to get the leverage to take what we know needs to happen and actually make it happen.


There is a huge difference between knowing the path and walking the path.  The gap is courage.  It appears to me that we have a crisis of courage in the human resources community.  I don’t say this as a criticism, bur rather as an observation.  The HR Capitalist, Kris Dunn, alluded to this in a recent post:

Unless an HR pro can go up on a stage in front of their peers and display a skill that’s in their wheelhouse, they won’t be able to perform the skill and deliver the knowledge in a pressure-packed situation that’s real.  At least not to the level that everyone expects when they talk about “great HR”.

When the big moments come, when the spotlight shines on us, when it’s our moment to show off what we know–we are paralyzed by fear.  When we reach down for the courage to step up on that stage and take our place as a strategic leader, we can’t find it.  I’m not sure if that’s a product of the type of people who are drawn to HR or if we’ve just never been developed in the right way to be ready for the moments when the stakes are high.  But, one this is certain, this has to change.  We in HR need to channel our inner Braveheart if we are going to save our organizations and leaders from themselves.

The Solution

Actually, there isn’t a silver bullet solution.  However, I know that one of the keys ways to overcome both of these hurdles in HR is to embrace a connection mindset and to invest in building our social capital.  Learning to navigate the political system effectively is really about building and cultivating the right relationships with the right people.  We call this strategic relationship management.  As you develop relationships with people, you create value in that relationship called social capital.  Social capital is what helps you get things done and gain approval for big projects when the stakes are high.  Strong relationships are also what protects you from the bad side of politics because you will have people who have your back.  Confidence also comes from having a strong network of people who are invested in supporting and encouraging your success (as you will be in theirs).  And in confidence comes the courage to do the hard things that we may have avoided in the past.

Social capital is a powerful and critical tool to becoming an effective strategic leader in HR and any other profession.  That’s why we will be breaking it down for people in our session on Monday at the SHRM conference in Vegas and then at the Illinois state SHRM conference in August.  Social capital is one of the keys to becoming the leader we need to be in HR.



  1. The work world is like high school with money. So goes a line I heard recently quoted during “Manager Tools,” a popular podcast I enjoy while walking my dogs.

    That line was quoted in response to those who don’t like to “play politics” in the workplace.

    This particular episode was on the topic of peer one-on-ones. Basically, extending the concept of direct report one-on-ones to select peer managers. These could be a good move for HR pros to build those relationships and social capital in the business you speak about.

    Great post! Hope to see you at #SHRM11

  2. Agree with some of what you say. Yes, HR is hamstrung globally with fear and conservatism / risk aversion (the effect). However if there are shortcomings in a role then HR has to reach out and empower others, not try to stop them doing what they do best.

    The default is to fall back on policies, regulations and paperwork and ignore the fundamental Human Resource (the anarchy if you like!) of playing people to their strengths.

    It’s a running joke that most HR professionals are called ‘See Mores’, bc they always want to see more – they never know when to stop the distrusting and get out of the way and trust others.

    These are generalisations admittedly, however risk aversion, mistrust, and the veneration of policies, protocols and rules seem high on the behaviour list of many HR I have had the misfortune of working with!

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