HR professionals must not leave important decisions to chance

A story I was told recently centred on a debate overheard in an HR department. According to the storyteller (someone with no connection to HR), the team was sitting around a table pointing fingers at each other. One person was heard to say: “In case the programme fails to gain acceptance, we must decide who should take the blame.” In recent years, the HR profession has certainly come of age, but people are still afraid of making mistakes.

As the custodians of the programmes, policies and initiatives that impact on individuals, HR managers are often called upon to make the decisions that affect the way organisations work. Yet, it is alarming that, in the past six months, a high proportion of senior managers claim to have made decisions against their better judgement – a scenario revealed in a recent Chartered Management Institute (CMI) survey.

Don’t be rushed

Yes, the world we work in may be demanding and fast-paced, but HR professionals must not allow themselves to be rushed into making decisions. If they do, the potential for damage to performance, morale and the bottom line is huge.

The problem is that managers feel burdened because of time constraints, bureaucracy and pressure from senior colleagues. But the point is that HR decisions – whether they are about recruitment, retention, or how to implement an ever-growing list of regulations – are not easy, and HR managers need to be prepared and informed if they are to make them properly. Time to reflect can be the difference between a quick fix or an employment tribunal and a long-term nightmare. HR professionals need to show confidence that they can cope with whatever challenges they face. Some decisions need a rapid response, but I believe that consideration and consultation ultimately lead to better decisions.

A quality decision-maker

Asked which qualities make good decision-makers, the top three answers given in the CMI survey were experience, logical thinking and objectivity. Only 7% claimed that intuition was an essential trait, and a mere 2% focused on persuasiveness.

No-one gets it right all the time, and you will gain more respect from colleagues if you are prepared to explain the reasons behind any decision you take. If you do get it wrong, one way to gain influence is by admitting your mistake and being prepared to do something about it.

One of the biggest challenges facing HR managers is how the decisions they make add value to the business. HR has come a long way in the past 15 years, but to build on its position, the profession needs to continue to demonstrate its value.

Quite rightly, the HR profession is becoming accepted as more than ‘just a necessary cost’, but the more HR professionals can demonstrate an understanding of their organisation, the more opportunities they will have to an effect on the decision-making process.

To inspire trust among colleagues, it is important for HR to show a sense of shared values. Doing so will show colleagues that you understand their aims and needs and will enable HR to contribute to the strategic growth and development of an organisation.

Sometimes more can be learned from errors than from getting things right. But if you refuse to be pressured into making decisions, you will minimise the potential for wrong choices and blame.

Jo Causon, director, marketing and corporate affairs, CMI

For full details of the Chartered Management Institute’s survey go to www.managers.org.uk/2005

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