Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Can we discuss something privately?  I'd rather not have this get out, but I have an issue that keeps getting in my way.  You see, as a hands-on HR practitioner, I've had the opportunity to work with many types of people at all levels of the organizations I've served.  I can honestly say that I've enjoyed interacting with almost all of them.  Almost all.


I know the collective stereotype outside of Human Resources is that we are masters of the company picnic and group hugs, but are we really expected to be everyone's pal?  Aren't we the ones who deal with some of the most complicated and challenging issues in the workplace?  Don't we have to dive head first in to these problems when other leaders look like deer in the headlights - sexual harassment, racial discrimination, diversity and inclusion, and other performance failures?  

But what happens when we (read here -> me) don't like the ones we are supposed to serve? 


No.  We don't have to like every single person we ever work with.  However, we must absolutely serve every single one as if we did like them.  A brief example brought this point home to me years ago and helps me (try!) to stay grounded.

An employee had been utilizing the resources of my team to work through a challenge with her supervisor.  To complicate matters, her performance had deteriorated in the weeks leading up to her accessing HR.  The situation eventually required me to meet with the employee, then her manager, and then the employee...again.  Candidly, this case was starting to get annoying. 

As I prepared for the second round with the employee, I knew I would have to "be firm" and "hold her accountable" for her weak performance.  Then the meeting started, I followed my plan, and then something happened. 

After hearing her update and my responses, this stern and always composed woman unexpectedly showed a hint of emotion; and with tears in her eyes thanked me for helping her.  She said I had such a "compassionate way" in dealing with her.

Are tears anything new in HR?  No.  Am I any different than the thousands of other committed HR leaders?  No way.  In fact, I would submit I still have much to learn from their example.  However, the takeaway for me in this encounter was simple.  I must serve every single person as if I believed they had value, could contribute to my organization's success, and be a real difference-maker.  To do anything else would be a total failure.  My failure.


How do you deal with those individuals who are not on your "favorites" list?  Have you figured out how to create an environment that ensures everyone knows they can reach out to you?  It's hard for me to do, what about you?

I'd love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

pic courtesy of


  1. There are a few skills in Crucial Conversations that address this. The breakdown is not necessarily what the other person does or says, but rather what we think that other person's intent is in doing or saying it. If we trust or care for someone, we tend to think that their intent is good despite their behaviors. When we don't, it is usually because we tell ourselves stories about the other person.

    If you believe it, then all you have to do is change your story about the other person and you will create a different emotion. In other words, nobody has the power to generate emotions within you without you giving them that power.

    Back to is difficult work. I have been able to use these skills to develop good relationships with some co-workers. But the rest fall into the category of "it is my job," and I will myself to remain calm, professional and compassionate.

  2. Thanks William. Great reference to Crucial Conversations. As you said, it sometimes does become a test of our will to do our jobs effectively and professionally.

  3. Jay,

    Great post. Your comments reminded me of a recent Jack Welch speaking event about HR, Managers and Leadership. While I can’t give his message full justice in words alone, he had several key messages to share, including: ‘If you’re in the business of employee picnics and empty accolades, get out of it. Get in the business of leadership.’

    As you have, he strongly suggested HR and managers need to be transparent and objective leaders. He also reminded us all that successful HR and hiring managers realize it’s no longer about them, but rather a disciplined focus on developing their people. It sounds like by your example, you agree with his philosophy.

    Jack Welch certainly makes it sounds second nature. I agree with you that it's easier said than done.

  4. Thanks so much for your comments Candace. It's refreshing when respected leaders of Jack's status speak highly of HR's potential. Now it's up to us to execute on his guidance.