HR leaders have a unique responsibility to manage change and other critical
issues in their organisations. It takes special personal qualities to rise to
the challenge, says John Hofmeister, director, human resources for Royal
If you belong to an organisation of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people,
you probably face a myriad of change, growth, turnaround, start-up and
divestiture issues, as well as the old twin nemesis of inefficiency and
ineffectiveness. Your strategy, structures, processes and people are frequently
at risk. More importantly, your customers and stakeholders are ever harder to
satisfy and business results more difficult to achieve. You know you’re there
to make things better.
How does a committed, experienced HR leader begin to deal organisationally
with such major challenges? More emphatically, what gives an HR leader his or
her licence to practise on such matters? Let’s address first things first:
licence to operate. More than the other expected qualities, such as
intelligence, experience and relationship skills, an HR leader needs three
fundamentals to provide the critical differences in the face of challenge. He
or she must have, and be known for, "courage", "respect"
Where do these capabilities come from? What do they look like? How do they
work? "Courage" comes from the values and principles held and the
behaviours displayed when the HR leader is tested. It looks like flexibility
and adaptability up to the point where one’s boundaries are crossed, then the
shoulders straighten (figuratively), the head lifts, the eyes brighten and the
soul strengthens. "Courage" acts like slack on a tightening chain. At
the right moment, for the right reason, the slack tightens, the chain holds.
The boundary is firm. And people know it.
"Respect" is earned day in and day out by service, caring for
others and honouring their dignity as people. The stakeholders, the staff
members, the managers, including your own, are the persons respected. Their
legitimacy of purpose and value-creating intent must be assumed. When it’s not
assured, however, "respect" is the currency that pays for the
intervention. The HR leader uses "respect" to assist the resolve and
support the outcomes of others. Letting others fail, especially if due to one’s
own self-interest, is dis-"respect". It carries a disproportionate price
tag. You probably can’t afford it, even once.
"Curiosity" comes from an insatiable appetite to learn and
therefore to know. There is no end of knowledge. Therefore
"curiosity" enables an HR leader to remain the enthusiastic student.
"The more you know, the more you learn what there is to know." It’s
an old adage, but if it’s not true for you as an HR leader it’s a pity. Your
clients will suffer from your unacquired knowledge. Everyone loses. How sad to
hear the expressions: "He only knows what he knows." "She lives
in such a small world." Don’t let this be you.
With personal licence to operate, the HR leader steps up to the challenges
of organisation, including the twin problems of inefficiency and
ineffectiveness. Why keep mentioning these? Simply put, they are the root
causes of most organisation trauma, especially if ignored. Failing to address
them means HR leaders must invoke dramatic solutions like major change, radical
transformation or major restructuring. Assuming personal licence, what additional
capability enables you to address these chronic problems, probably over and
over throughout your career?
Three organisation fundamentals are required for your skill repertoire. To
address organisation efficiency and effectiveness, the HR leader must develop a
working understanding and applied appreciation of "harmony",
"flow" and "sustainability".
An organisation of many people has the potential to create obnoxious noise
or orchestrated music. "Harmony" is the capability of tuning the
voices and tensions in any organisation to productive cooperation. It requires
an understanding of the end game, the players, the structures and processes by
which work gets done. It assumes political savvy and negotiating prowess. It
takes a refined ear to the ground and eyes all around. Senses must be sharp;
intuition is crucial. "Harmony" is the only sound customers want to
"Flow" is the capability to move energy evenly to all corners of
the organisation and coordinate it towards the end game. When "flow"
is out of balance, winners are positioned against losers and both fight the
lost cause of an internal power game. Neither wins, each loses. Boundaries
block "flow" and create floods that drown the end game. Occasionally
a giant rises to desperately control "flow" but rarely wins. All
systems and processes must work. "Flow" is continuous, coordinated
effort by all present. "Flow" is balance; it’s the hardest dynamic to
"Sustainability" is the capacity to renew people’s commitment to
the objectives of the organisation despite the pressures of competition or the
environment. One can only work towards "sustainability"; it’s never
been mastered. But sustain you must. Clarity of vision, continuity of purpose,
competence of people, balance of priorities, accountability for performance,
rewards for success, satisfied staff and open-loop learning serve a game plan. They
help "sustainability", but can’t guarantee it. You, the HR leader,
are the constant in the process.
Six attributes – three personal, three organisational – go a long way to aid
the HR leader in the pursuit of personal and organisational success. A career
is a long time. Thank nature for that. It takes all the time available, and
sometimes more, to master these capabilities.