25 Deadly Ways Your HR Department Quietly Kills It’s Credibility…And What You Can Do About It!

By Alan Collins | successinhr.com/hr-quietly-kills-its-credibility

Every Thanksgiving our family gathers at my dad’s for dinner.

With relatives and guests, 25-30 people typically attend.

Last year, one of my cousins from Michigan joined us for the first time. He hadn’t seen us in years.

After dinner, while watching the football game, he shared with me some observations about our family dynamics and behavior at dinner.

He noticed for example: Where people sat.  How quickly people ate.  The kinds of conversations that occurred.  Who seemed be uncomfortable. Who really didn’t want to be there.  Who kept discussions going.  Who seemed to have hidden agendas.  And what different family member beliefs were on topics like sports, politics, religion and sex.

Much of what he said wasn’t new news for me, but I was absolutely blown away by what he was able to pick up in just a few hours of silent observation. Though many of these behaviors were subtle and disguised, he nailed just about all of them.

Because he was a newcomer to our Thanksgiving dinner, he recognized unspoken family interaction patterns and subtleties that had become a routine part of this event for over 20 years.

And these were things I took for granted and never thought much about.  

The same thing happens in HR organizations. Like most departments, HR has unspoken rules, rituals, norms, expectations and everyday patterns of behavior. But often, because you are part of the department, they become routine and ingrained as part of the culture. And you don’t recognize or notice them — unless they are pointed out by the fresh eyes of a new employee.

However, some of these everyday patterns of behavior, if left uncorrected, can become toxic to your HR department…and slowly destroy it’s credibility.

Below is a list of them.  Many of these operate so subtly that you may not even know they exist.   This list is drawn from and inspired by a similar one in Dave Ulrich’s excellent book, HR From The Outside In (which I highly, highly recommend).

That said, here are 25 silent credibility killers of HR departments:

1. Pretend participation. We ask clients and employees for their input and then don’t act on what we hear. Example: we make a big deal about doing a company-wide employee engagement survey and then we don’t act on the results.

2. False agreement. We say we agree when we don’t.  Example:  In the business strategy meeting, we nod our head in support of the need to do a 10% headcount reduction.  Then we quietly talk against it to everyone else later.

3. Concealed consensus. We confuse participation with consensus. We want everyone to agree before we act. Example: Before implementing a new program to hold managers MORE accountable for developing their talent, we delay it indefinitely until the 20% who are holdouts agree to support it.

4. Turfism. We defend our turf like a hungry dog protecting a piece of raw meat.  We engage in power struggles with other departments like Public Relations, Legal, Finance, IT…to the detriment of the overall organization.

5. Narcissistic competitiveness. We value succeeding as individuals, not as teams.  When people tell us there’s no “I” in team, we respond that’s true, but there is one in “win.”

6. Crisis jumping. When a workplace tragedy or crisis happens, we act decisively and successfully…and then we wait for the next crisis in order for us to act again.

7. All things to all people. We have too many priorities. Every good idea gets energy and attention. We never say no. We are not focused on the critical few initiatives that will drive the best results. We have to keep every single client happy at all costs.

8. Artificial push back. We regularly use “push back” as a substitute for action or as a delaying tactic. It’s easier to criticize everything…even a new direction clearly right for the business…rather than adapt our HR practices or embrace the personal changes that will be required.

9. Process mania. We are so consumed by following policy and process we don’t focus on results and outcomes. Example: We would rather lose a top performer to the competition, than to approve an out-of-guidelines pay increase or promote him or her before they’re ready.

10. The HR brand stands for nothing. Let me put it this way: envision yourself as a can of Pepsi. You know that you have lots of competition from Coke, Royal Crown Cola, and other cola products. Your features include being brown, bubbly, cold, yummy and sweet.  You can come with caffeine (or not) and you’re priced the exactly same as your competitors.  However, millions of people grab you from the shelf anyway because you’ve found a way to differentiate your brand from your cola competitors.   Now let’s shift from soda to Human Resources.   Your HR department fails to follow this soda pop branding model.  It’s not differentiated.  It doesn’t offer a unique, indispensable value to your clients.  Sure, you process new hires, pay changes and promotions — but beyond this clerical and computerized function, your department’s brand stands for nothing meaningful in the eyes of your clients.  (This is a KILLER!)

11. Perfectionism. We have to have the perfect answer or full information before we make a decision or take action. CYA prevails. We don’t want to be second-guessed by higher ups or the workforce.

12. Overmeasure. We measure everything, even to a fault.  Our HR dashboards and metrics are way too complex to be understood.  We don’t distill things down to the critical KPIs.

13. Undermeasure. We don’t track the important stuff. We measure what’s easy and soft, regardless of whether it’s what we need to know. We answer questions about our HR effectiveness with answers beginning with “I believe…” “I feel…. and “I think..”

14. Glacial response. We can’t get decisions made quickly.

15. Unsustainability. We do not follow-up to sustain changes or new HR programs we start.

16. The dog and pony show rules. Style is valued over substance. Endless PowerPoint presentations prevail, but little action happens as a result.

17. Undeveloped HR skills. We don’t have the skills required for the future. Analogy: What if you went to a new doctor only to find out that his equipment is old, his magazines are old, and his office is old? And then you found out that he never attends conferences and never reads to try to stay abreast of the new findings in his specialty. How long would you stay with that doctor?  Since the people in your HR department treat their development like this doctor, how long do you expect to retain your client’s support?

18. Kill the messenger. We never hear bad news from employees because it isn’t safe. They know we’ll run to senior management with juicy information, name names just to make ourselves look good.  It shows the top brass that we’re in touch with the workforce. To our credit, we DO let employees know that we cannot guarantee them confidentiality in private discussions.

19. Ostrich behavior. No one is willing to stick their neck out and question the status quo.  Your HR department has a reputation for being politically correct to a fault and someone other departments cannot rely on for a authentic and candid feedback. Your department refuses to provide original thinking.  Instead they’ve chosen the safe path for fear of ruffling feathers, creating enemies or rocking the boat.

20. Activity mania. We like to be busy. Our badge of honor is a full calendar even if it excludes thinking, adding value and generating results. We hide behind our “busy-ness.”

21. Fire hydrant syndrome. Everyone has to put their mark every initiative or project before anyone can move on it. This happens in large HR organizations where corporate headquarters needs to sign off on any compensation or talent-related initiative, no matter how minor.

22. Value by grade. We judge people by their title and rank rather than by their performance or competence.

23. Authority ambiguity.  We’re unclear on accountability.  In our matrix, we’re not sure who is responsible or accountable, so no one is and stuff falls between the cracks.

24. Flavor of the month. We jump from program to program. We come back from HR conferences with new best practices to impose on the organization, whether they fit the culture or not.  We don’t integrate our initiatives so that they complement each other and we end up with a cluttered mess of disjointed programs.

25. This too shall pass. When bad things happen, we wait it out, ignore it, and it will soon go away.

There you have it: 25 items that will obliterate your HR group’s credibility over time, if left unchecked.

Now that you’re read this list, let’s get real…

Nobody’s perfect! 

From time to time, we will all fall victim to one or more of these behaviors.  I know I have.  More times than I can count.  And every single HR department I’ve ever worked in has as well.

And that’s okay.  Occasional lapses will happen.  We’re human.

However, here’s the real takeaway in all this:

A regular and consistent PATTERN of these types of behaviors
builds a negative reputation, puts your HR department
on a death watch and WILL sink it into an oblivion
practically impossible to recover from.

Read that sentence again.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

My advice: Don’t let this happen.  Get in front of this.  Don’t be blind to these behaviors. Share this article with your boss. Pass it along to your colleagues and clients. Find a way to discuss this at your next HR staff meeting. Ask a newcomer to your group with fresh eyes for feedback on these points. Do what you can to begin a conversation within your group about these issues.

And then begin taking CORRECTIVE ACTION.

The current and future credibility of your HR department will depend on it.


About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR  and the author of the HR best sellers, UNWRITTEN HR RULES  and BEST KEPT HR SECRETS.   He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.  His most recent book, WINNING BIG IN HR, is now available on Amazon.
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1 Comment:

  1. Why are you copying my articles without my permission? Please stop it before I'm compelled to take legal action.

    Alan Collins

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