HR – Different but not indifferent

It’s almost 30 years to the day that I took my first steps into the challenging career of Human Resources. Of course it has changed its name a few times and suffered its fair share of esoteric guru’s but generally the direction of travel and key purpose has remained unchanged.

It’s almost 30 years to the day that I took my first steps into the challenging career of Human Resources. Of course it has changed its name a few times and suffered its fair share of esoteric guru’s but generally the direction of travel and key purpose has remained unchanged.

In January 1997 I was invited as a guest to an Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) seminar . I can’t say it was life changing or deeply impactful however I learned a lesson from the first speaker that day that has held true for me and supported me in my own journey into the wonder that is being an HRD. He said, in a very simple tone “to be successful in this sphere of employment a Personnel manager needs to be different but not indifferent”. Or in simple terms, successful HR professionals need to find the right balance between being “available ” and “accessible”

As I look back over 30 years of thrilling and at times fulfilling employment I realise that the larger the organisation that I worked in as an HRD the greater the tension I felt between being “available” and being “accessible”. I learned, often the hard way that to avoid burnout I couldn’t always do both. The reality for most HR professionals is that if they are doing there job properly there are too many demands on their time to always be “available”. It became the norm for me when working for there to be more requests for my time than hours in the day, irrespective of what you considered an appropriate day was. The introduction of technology into HR has be a wonderful development and has had a meteoric impact on the future effectiveness of our profession. However it has also guaranteed a level of expectant  availability that I could easily see me receiving in excess of a hundred electronic requests for my time in a single day. I don’t ever remember receiving a hundred letters, typed memos or verbal meeting invitations in a single day?

The reality I quickly understood  is if we are to be successful in delivering effective HR leadership we can’t always be instantly available. To succeed in HR Leadership we need to :-

1. Make the most effective use of our limited time.
2. Consider are we really the best person to meet with everyone.
3. Invest in the HR staff with whom we work and trust them to represent us effectively.

In my heart I know that on many many occasions I wished that my time was limitless. I’d rather have always be available to meet and to help my managers and their staff, but the reality was that time was not limitless and I needed to choose and prioritise. As with most HR professional the nature of our work is often very individual and at times emotive and consequently it was always my inclination to say yes when meetings were requested . And if I was blatantly honest in times of greatest need it was easier for me to say yes to others than it was to say no. I was always more popular when I said yes.  But, being popular isn’t a good HRD goal. Nor is an effective goal.

So what is the right answer? How did I balance difference with indifference? How did I calibrate availability when I couldn’t always be there in person? The answer is much simpler that I first thought it would be. Once I accepted that I couldn’t always be available, I realised this did not mean I was unreachable. My solution which I hope you will consider was not complicated or deep, nor did it require any great training, just a little practice. My solution was to always be accessible. From the very first days of my career as a Personnel and Training Officer I genuinely desired my contribution to add value and to provide the mechanism that would empower workforces to improve and succeed and consequently I needed everyone to be aware that I could always be reached if I was really needed.

I published my contact details on every notice board letterhead, team brief, staff magazine, business card and organisational newsletter. And more recently on the web, internet, intranet, email, enotice board, both sides of my office door and even the canteen menu. From the CEO in his tower to the security guard on the front gate every mechanism of contacting me was available to them.

And along side this I published my agreed response times and mechanisms similarly as widely to ensure everyone knew when and how I would get back to them. If you don’t know when I will call you back and you don’t get a call until the next day that’s poor service . However if I promise to respond to every call within 24 hours and similarly openly publish this promise then the same next day call back is ” platinum” service. I have always seen my responsiveness reputation as a huge personal value and have worked hard to embed this value similarly across my teams. I have had to part company with very few HR colleagues however in almost sixty percent of these occasions it was their refusal or inability to embrace the value of responsiveness that played the greatest part in their demise.

Don’t get me wrong, even this approach doesn’t make everyone happy. Some; especially underperforming managers; would demand that I was always available to them, often out of hours and at their convenience, but the goal of HR leadership is not to make everyone happy it is to ensure they make a greater contribution to their organisation and to contribute to this HR Professionals must make effective use of their time and abilities. So consider my words at the start of another year. Don’t try to be always available, when all you need to be is always accessible.

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