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Turning HR from ditch diggers to bridge builders

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

Organisations recognise, in theory if not in practice, the need to build bridges between themselves and partner agencies, providers, suppliers, and the wider community but internally the tendency is to dig trenches. They are not always called trenches, in the large complex organisations I worked for they were referred to as silos. This was the tendency for different directorates to be insular and from top to bottom have little or nothing to do with others out side their directorate despite being part of the same organisation. This wasn’t just a lack of communication, it was a lack of cooperation!

This was never more obvious than the annual budget setting round when directorates would see themselves in competition to protect their budget/resources.  Another example of working in isolation was when something went wrong , a critical inspection or audit report , a damming Heath and Safety report, negative publicity in the local press, a problem with a high profile provider, the response was for the other directorates to distance themselves rather than be supportive. This mentality was replicated within directorates as teams dug trenches to protect their budgets, were defensive about how they did things, not inclined to share best practise or accept any thing invented elsewhere could possibly work in their unique circumstances.

Bridge building desperately needed, who better than HR for the task. All the directorates had in common recruitment, a desire to change working practices, JD’s and terms and conditions of employment. All directorates needed to tackle absenteeism. As they pursued these agendas managers across the organisation were experiencing  increased allegations of harassment and bullying. And finally all directorates were facing a challenge to meet equality and diversity targets. All areas were HR’s specialist skills and knowledge could help.

Of course building bridges sometimes meets resistance. Operational managers don’t like the idea of HR imposing standard JD’s or failing to recognise that the nature of the work explains higher absenteeism in some areas. However setting up some corporate working groups to tackle common challenges chaired by an impartial HR just might bring people together.

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