What started as an isolated article or post seems to have now become a steady stream. Barely a day goes past where I don’t happen upon some status update, some commentary on employee experience, some so called expert telling me why all of the problems organisations in the twenty-first century are experiencing are HR’s “fault”.
Before you berate me for being overly defensive, hear me out. Anyone who’s ever worked with me will know that I take my professional responsibilities extremely seriously. I struggle to imagine anyone going into – much less staying in – HR and not wanting to make a difference. Indeed, one of the many things that attracts people to the HR profession is the almost unique opportunity to work across the breadth and depth of an organisation, alongside experts in every single function, with that single-minded focus on delivering results.
A multi-faceted beast
HR – or “People”, “Culture”, “Purveyors of Workplace Happiness”, or however it is we’re branding ourselves this week – is a multi-faceted beast. We have to be, if we’re to deal with the many and varied expectations that are levelled at us as a function. Need snapshot in time employee data at the click of a button? Check. Looking for someone to own the strategic delivery of an organisational redesign, through the subsequent merger and acquisition process? Check. Searching for the best person to support a traumatised employee through a personal crisis? Check. Check, check, check. If it’s a work-related activity involving people – and, given the nature of most organisations’ operations, you can be confident that the vast majority of work-related activities do indeed involve people – then HR will be there.
And that’s exactly as it should be. Like I say, no self-pitying here: those of us who joined the HR profession love it for exactly those reasons; the sheer variety, complexity and downright unpredictability of our roles.
The fall guy
Where I start to take issue, though, is where, as a direct result of such thorough organisational integration, HR appear to have started being used – by the many commentators I reference above – as the fall guy for when things go wrong.
Dysfunctional organisational culture? Yep, you’ve got HR to thank for that. Poor employee behaviours going unchecked? That’ll be HR’s fault. Increasing rates of employee absence and attrition? Down to HR, once again.
But what these commentators fail to acknowledge – intentionally, or otherwise – is that in any organisation, HR can only ever be part of the solution.
Achieving our full potential
The reality is that the success or failure of any organisation is as a direct result of its people. And it’s true: HR have a big part to play when it comes to those people, be that hiring them, training them, developing them, nurturing them and ultimately enabling them to achieve their full potential.
BUT SO DOES EVERYONE ELSE. Use of shouty capitals entirely deliberate, because it’s a point that, in their committed attempts to point the finger of blame at anywhere other than themselves, so many commentators and so-called “experts” appear to have forgotten.
Organisations who are truly delivering on their potential are doing so because they have something special when it comes to their organisational cultures. And those cultures are achieved by every single person within that business stepping up and understanding the impact that their actions can have.
Be the change we want to see
You see, regardless of where we work within an organisation – be that as a new graduate, an experienced manager, or as a member of the HR team – we have a responsibility to make a difference; make things better; be the change we want to see. No matter how great any organisation’s HR department, they cannot be in all places at all times. It’s therefore up to every single one of us to call it out when we see a behaviour that’s unacceptable. To flag a concern when it’s being discussed. To not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it’s someone else’s problem, while indulging in counterproductive moaning and complaining, without ever taking the steps to put things right.
HR should be the function which is setting the standards, making the recommendations and being the enabler when it comes to creating a working environment where people can thrive. But, as the saying goes: “You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Ultimately, it is up to each of us as individuals to do the right things, to exhibit the right behaviours, to call out the problems and enable them to be addressed, if our organisational culture is to thrive. And if we, too, are to thrive as individuals.
Pause for breath
So my plea to the aforementioned commentators, next time you choose to level the finger of blame at HR, is to take a pause for breath first. And to realise that, while HR are absolutely, and should very much be, part of the solution… they are not, in themselves, the whole answer. The final piece of the puzzle only truly gets completed when each of us stands up and takes ownership for addressing the issues. When we accept that cultural issues within our organisations are not “their” fault… but are in fact the responsibility of every single one of us.