I was once called a “bully” by a team member and I wanted to share how it changed my perspective towards HR management! Although there are probably a million things that I can share from that experience, but let’s keep them for another article!
As HR professionals, we often ask managers to take the personal emotion out of a situation when they come to us with a query. If a manager has a concern or issue with a colleague or someone they manage and which has led to conflict, there is often a possibility that they will take the situation personally. When they come to their HR colleagues, what we normally tell them is: “Please take your personal feelings out of this” and “imagine this in the context of the organisation” and “these situations are not uncommon”, etc.
From my experience with HR teams with whom I’ve been a part of, and maybe in any other typical HR department, if you hear two colleagues speaking after a call with a manager, they may say things like: “Oh they’re being so emotional” and maybe we even roll our eyes at how their emotional response are making them unable to take our advice properly.
We want to start advising them on the ‘process’ that should be followed to manage the conflicting situation; mostly disregarding the personal impact this might have on the manager. Yes, we probably tell them that we understand. But do we actually? Do we empathise with them or are we in the rush to move towards a “process” and be quick to advise what they should do?
Is it that easy to switch off your personal feelings from a situation for the sake of the ‘fair’ and ‘objective’ process? I found myself asking this question after being on the receiving end of this very advice. I can tell you, NO, it is not easy to switch off and it’s difficult not to have an emotional reaction, at least initially. It’s important to acknowledge what has happened and accept it, before you can switch off.
When a team member called me a bully, I did have an emotional reaction and needed some real reassurances and conversations with my other team members to make me feel otherwise. Some of my team members, went out of their way and out of their normal route to offer their support for me. These were also people who I line managed. They helped me take the emotional reaction out of the situation before I was able to focus on the process and be pragmatic about this. It was their human touch that helped me in the process, not their HR skills, although they do happen to be HR professionals.
Managers often feel that HR colleagues do not understand their situation or have not been in their shoes. I have often been frustrated with this. I don’t know if I have always been able to change this perspective when I have come across such a situation, but I have encouraged and empowered my team members to do more the talk the talk here and to not jump quickly to a process when a manager is clearly still processing. I do feel this is an ongoing process that each HR team should continue to explore in order to provide a true partnership support. I should add here, that the opposite is also true and managers need to acknowledge the role of their HR colleagues, which is to provide expert advice and the true perspective and not to take over for them. That is just another way that the ‘human’ is taken out of the process.
In this blog, I wanted to share my experience as a manager and how that slightly changed or shifted my perspective about these standard HR conversations and what might be missing in those ever so helpful HR calls! The learning I took from that experience was from my experience as a manager, not as a HR advisor. That tells me that the manager’s experience is key here, and taking that into account in our HR work is absolutely critical.
My HR brain does know that in most of these situations, the best way to deal with the issues is clearly following a process. However, it is important to acknowledge that this can be done only after we have been able to conquer our inner fear and address our feelings that have tagged along with the present situation. It’s better to accept and deal with this first before we move ahead in dealing with the pragmatic side. We are human beings after all and cannot just act like robots and get on with the process without acknowledging that we can have a rather emotional response.
So, I asked myself, what exactly is our role in HR? And the answer I received was, it’s actually about bringing the ‘Human’ back into Human Resources. We can empower managers to accept their emotional reaction and also reassure them that it’s only natural to feel that way, rather than asking them to brush that aside and get on with the process straight away. We might offer them the space ourselves or suggest that they to speak to their colleagues before they come back to the process. Once that first hurdle is crossed, they are likely to be able to follow the process more objectively. In the longer term they will begin to see the value of HR and thus work as true partners in providing game changing solutions.
I think often what happens is that the HR advisor insists on following a process which is fair and consistent, however this is often interpreted as bureaucratic and red-tapism by managers. Equally, managers fail to see the true intent of their HR colleagues which is to help them in the process. Maybe all of this is due to the missing perspective for both of these parties in such situations. The essence of putting the Human back and the key role of HR does not lie in supporting the processes but to improve the capacity of managers and empower them in becoming better leaders. True value of HR is about turning everyone into their best versions by offering certain perspectives and not just providing process support! To put it simply, it is about bringing a change of perspective and having the perseverance until a solution is achieved.
So, what do we do? Well, I think we start by bringing the ‘Human’ back into Human Resources.