HR Doctor: Me-me-me syndrome

Personnel Today’s HR doctor Nick Holley diagnoses some diseases common to HR and suggests the cures that might restore it to health.

Me-me-me syndrome


  • Me-me-me syndrome is closely related to narcissism. HR people who suffer from this think it’s all about them.
  • Sometimes this is driven by arrogance but more often it’s driven by a lack confidence – so HR always has to prove how good it is.  t spends huge amounts of time measuring HR activity to prove how good it is when the business doesn’t really care what HR does ,but cares about the difference it’s making.
  • As a result HR never looks at things from someone else’s perspective. It never listens or seeks to understand. Not only that but HR never seeks or acts on feedback as it see it as criticism rather than gift that will help it improve.
  • HR people who suffer from Me-me-me syndrome make poor coaches as their inner voice is focused on being a good coach rather than being focused on the person they are coaching. They ask themselves what question will make them look good rather than what question will help the other person.
  • Finally it can drive a fatal impatience: “Why do I have to waste my time on them and their needs when it just gets in the way of what I need to do?”


  • Me-me-me syndrome results in lower trust. If you read the book The Trusted Advisor it looks at a formula that helps explain what drives trust. The biggest impact on this ‘trust quotient’ is how self-centred you are. The more self-centred the lower the trust; after all if you are only interested in you why would I trust you to work in my best interests?
  • In Henley’s research we found that a critical role for many HR people is to be the confidante to their line partner, the person with whom they can share their deepest concerns, knowing that they will get a sympathetic but professional response.
  • Me-me-me syndrome destroys the trust on which the confidante relationship is built with the result the manager has no one to turn to in the business. This is great for the executive coaching industry but not so good for the bottom line.


1 I have been working with one HR team who recognised the importance of engaging with their customers in the business. The problem is they saw this as selling what they were doing rather than truly understanding their customer’s needs and developing solutions for them.
If it’s about the business with whom you are partnering – not HR or you – then you need to engage with the business, listen and understand, remembering we have two ears and one mouth so listen more an speak less.

2 To be honest I suffered from Me-me-me syndrome when I was younger. I lacked self-confidence and spent too much time trying to be liked rather than respected, with the result I found it difficult making the tough calls. 
As a young OD professional involved in a major reorganisation I knew that a particular line manager was a major impediment to the change. When his director asked me if he should move him out, I advised him to give him time to change. In my heart I knew he wouldn’t but I was worried he would find out and wouldn’t like me or even worse shout at me! The reorganisation turned into a disaster as this manager effectively blocked the whole change for six months. 
I learnt to take myself out of the equation and base my advice on what is good for my customer.


  • The cure is simple: You need to constantly challenge yourself on whether what you are doing is being driven from the needs of the business or your own needs.
  • It means remembering that there’s no limit to what you can achieve if you don’t have to take the credit. It means remembering that the best idea is the idea the person you are trying to influence just had.
  • It just means stopping yourself once in a while and shouting in the mirror: “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME!”.

By Nick Holley, director of the HR Centre of Excellence at Henley Business School. The centre works with members from the private, public and third sectors to change the debate around HR; carrying out applied research aimed at advancing current thinking, and delivering programmes to enhance the quality of business and partnering skills for senior and high-potential HR professionals.

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