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Tom Haskins

Steve: This week's Time magazine had an article (Global page 10) that ties into this H/R issue: The Rage to Engage - Giving attention to workers can pay off as much as pay. "What is increasingly clear, though, is that management attention to engagement leads to real returns". The article mentions $40 million in savings, larger margins, higher stock prices, higher customer satisfaction scores, lower turnover, etc. ..."People used to think HR was just a cost center and not a source of value creation".

Once more managers can see the payoff, nightmare scenarios like your email correspondent portrays will become less common.

Steve Roesler

That's the kind of info that's genuinely useful, Tom.

Thanks for being on the case and offering up the resource. Will have to check it out.

Jo

Who's familiar with Karl Weick's expression that we define social problems in ways that we can nothing about them? I find Weick heavy reading and I had a quotation to this effect in big print on my filing cabinet for a couple of years!

The HR problem is not new. For as long as I have been in the trade, which is a long-time, we have been regarded as incompetent, and we have been thoroughly detested. And as Steve's informant illustrates, with good reason.

When I was pretty young, I joined a manufacturing company where the HR department quailed in the gaze of the Ops Director. I had recently joined the company, and had taken the early morning flight down to our second city on some exercise or other. I was in their typing pool (I did say I had been around for a while), and to my horror, the Ops Director came in and bellowed across this room full of women (of course!), all older than me, "Bloody HR!".

I hadn't a clue what was going on, or how to handle this. I didn't know the Ops Director would be there and I was mentally noting that I would raise this omission in my briefing with my superior and the HR Secretary who had made the flight arrangements. He seemed to want a response, so I smiled and said cheerfully "What have we done now?" I think I as about 25 at the time.

Wow, then I heard the story. My colleagues at another factory of ours had provoked a strike and the workers refused to speak to anyone but the Ops Director, who they trusted and respected. And he had hopped on the next flight down.

So what is the morale of the story? Another Director would have gone crazy at my cheek - it is true. But I learned a lesson. Find out what is happening. We are often at fault. And get in and help solve the problem, even if it is just to make the coffee. I couldn't help solve that problem. The workers didn't know me and I was too young to have any credibility with them. I could make myself useful though by listening, which I did - with an audience of the entire typing pool and my pulse racing as I had no idea what I was doing - this was a Board level Director after all who was known to be volatile. I am also not dumb and I checked the fellow in at the airport and sat next to him on the way back. Nothing like an hour's flight to get a personal briefing from the Ops Director on what he really finds important.

So I hope this is at least a little amusing. It illustrates something important though. How do we hold the conversation? This is Steve's area not mine. I'm good on the programmatic stuff. What I can offer is a step-by-step. I've just pulled out five quotations from David Whyte who would be horrified to see his poetry used like this - but hey some of us are J. I'll put them on my site later. Is this a win-win - poetry for high P and steps for high J. We'll see!

I am living in two worlds at the moment. Last night, I stayed up reposting steps for civil disobedience in Zimbabwe. Can you imagine taking a small step when you haven't had power or running water for days? You've had something to eat but it was pretty weird? When the person frustrating you is armed? Do you know what their slogan is? This is incredible. "They burn, we build". Simple suggestions such as stand-firm next to someone who speaks out. Let the bully walk alone. You feel yourself cheer up, become more active and focused, and see solutions.

So Zimbabwe is still in trouble, I hear the skeptics say. What positive has happened? Yes, Zimbabwe is in trouble. We can sit around beating our chests saying Zimbabwe is in trouble. Or we can begin by getting it out of trouble. Many people all over the world spent the weekend chasing the An Yue Jiang. (Anyone missed the news?) This was important for Zimbabwe who now has 3m bullets fewer than they were going to have. It also brought solace to people around the world from their own problems, because action re-energises. The smallest step of translating a letter into German, explaining a technical term on Lloyds, generates energy and a sense of belonging that gives heart for the next step and the next.

My second world is HR. I feel my spirit sag as I mention the word. What a contrast! And I am not dumping. I have been in this business for, oh, such a long time! This is my suggestion.

What if we organized, through the blogging community, a positive week? What if we spent one week attending to hope, resilience, solidarity, joy, zest, kindness, justice in the workplace? What if . . ?

Steve, with you talent for running conversations? What do you think?

Drops of water flowing in the same direction are a river in full force of its summer waters.

I harbour no grudges against people who hold this opinion. The question is

Jo

Sorry, last sentence was part of a draft. It was saying that I hold no grudges against people who are disappointed by HR. The missionary zeal in me! Little do they know, by the time I have finished with them they will be faithful apostles . .

Who's for a positive week spread by netizens into HR?

Steve Roesler

Well, Jo, it sounds as if you have a lot going on simultaneously.

If we look at the totality of the series on systemic thinking, there really aren't "victims" and "villains." (Unless, of course, the system allows that kind of dysfunction to breed unchecked. In which case you get unhealthy functioning and ultimately the system doesn't thrive or even survive).

As we discuss Talent in the context of organizations, we're seeing that there are many elements that touch each other in order to impact the total talent equation.

And indeed, a week of focusing on the positive could make a dent in the "ain't it awful" themes that are so easy to find.

Are you going to initiate it?

Jo

Oh you do know how to fix me! I think we should.

How could we organize it?

Steve Roesler

Jo:

Is that the Royal "We"?

Wally Bock

Hi Steve and Jo. I don't think "we" are going to do much. I just posted on this over at Three Star Leadership in "Tracking the rise of CIOs (and maybe HR)."
http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2008/04/22/tracking-the-rise-of-cios-and-maybe-hr.aspx

MIS became IT and the people in charge of the function became CIOs because of a cycle that began with a few companies seizing the competitive advantage that IT could provide and therefore using the function as a source of comparative advantage. Other companies, not wiching to be left behind, followed suit.

MIS (reporting to finance usually) became IT and the Director of MIS became CIO. Well, not exactly. The people who became CIOs were mostly new people. The MIS Directors were downgraded, moved laterally or retired.

I suspect that same thing will have to happen with HR for HR to change. Changing business conditions make this likely. But a stubborn strain in management thought, the One Best Way, that gives priority to strategy and work design and treats people as interchangeable parts is a countervailing force.

Jo

I was hoping that was a collective "we", Steve.

I am curious to know whether leading HR practitioners will test the appreciative management waters. And whether we could keep it up?

If I was cynical, I would bet on how many days before we lapse into cynicism . .

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