HR can't be fuelled by fear

10 February 2015

"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold" (Helen Keller)

ATTEND networking events, have meetings with prospective clients, chat with contacts in various industries, keep in touch with old colleagues and when the subject turns to HR, I often hear some rather unkind opinions creeping in about our lack of bravery.

Now either this is a reality for many of these companies or a perception has been created (which can often equate to the same thing unfortunately) whereby HR seems reluctant to take action, to get involved and to speak up. That fundamentally it has become afraid. For a professional HR person this makes the blood boil (for the Twitter mafia that's not meant literally, but metaphorically).

I appreciate that there are times when caution is required, when the sensible option needs to be taken and perhaps a soothing word rather than aggressive posturing is better for all, however this does not mean that HR people are afraid.

I have often asked clients if they would prefer to say sorry or take two days to run a procedure or pay out £10,000 in tribunal costs.

Having said that, I can appreciate the frustration inherent in operational staff when they hear, too often, that the path of least resistance is best, that erring on the side of caution is always the smart thing to do, that sleeping dogs should be let lie.

So with that in mind perhaps there are a number of things that we as HR professionals should consider that might just rid us of this perception. n Don't be afraid to offer commercial advice, not just the safe option. Show how risk can be mitigated and talk in terms of business impact and cost.

* Don't be afraid of confrontation. You really can engage with (and even dismiss) people in the workplace. Being on long-term sick does not mean you are immune from any action being taken. Having the title of director doesn't mean you can't be challenged. The person who raises countless grievances should not be seen as untouchable. Being a trade union rep does not provide a magic cloak of protection from internal procedures if they are doing something wrong. All you need to do is be fair, consistent and follow your processes.

* Don't be afraid to speak up in meetings. Operational folks rarely have a problem admitting they know little about HR. It's equally permissible for you to ask basic questions when you enquire about operational matters. Is it better to be informed and a little embarrassed or ignorant and uninformed?

* Don't be afraid to say no. A pushover HR department is no good to anyone. Stand your ground using reason and logic; don't just give in and let something go 'just this one time' simply to keep people happy. Stand up for yourselves.

* Don't be afraid to challenge the status quo. Revisionism will ensure that you were seen as perfectly happy to accept a course of action because you didn't speak up at the time. HR fought to get to the top table. It should start showing some presence when it's there.

* Don't be afraid to say the difficult things that need to be said; whether it's about performance, absence, attitude, conduct; whatever. Of all people in the organisation we should be the ones who understand employment law so we should be well placed to know exactly how, why, when and where these messages need to be delivered. n Don't be afraid to challenge the ridiculous. There are plenty of polices that are just plain dumb. Finally we should never be afraid to fail, as long as this is accompanied by learning. As Samuel Beckett noted: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail better"

Author: Capita HR solutions.

Employee Insight Report 2016/17

Our Employee Insight Report allows employers to get an get an understanding of what their own employees may be thinking.

Download our report