Don’t Be an HR Stealth Ninja…

Paul Hebert Change, Good HR, Paul Hebert, Seat at the Table, Trench HR

Is that redundant?  Ninjas and stealth are pretty similar no? Ninjas are known for their ability to strike and get out without being seen.  Same with stealth planes, trains and automobiles. The idea behind Ninjas and Stealth tech is they can get the job done without leaving any traces.  No one knows they were there and after they do their job, everyone sits around scratching their heads asking “what just happened?”

I wonder sometimes if HR is like Stealth Ninjas? (As opposed to the loud obnoxious Ninjas you hear coming a mile away – throwing beer bottles and singing Irish ditties.)  Let me explain.

Don’t Tell Anyone…

I once was working with a large client a few years back on employee reward programs.  One day the HR person came to me and asked about a special recognition program for a small group – about 100 people – who had been working on an accounting system overhaul.  Now this was no small overhaul.  We’re talking Oracle, not Quickbooks.  This was a global company with over 20,000 employees.  The system they were installing took over a year to put in place and would save them huge amounts of time and money.  It was a big deal.  Someone close to the project told me they were spending somewhere in the high 9 figures (that’s a number with 8 zeros -yeah – Zuckerburg type zeros.)

So the HR person tells me that the implementation staff for the new system had been working 70, 80, heck 100 hours a week for about a year, and they wanted to reward them for the extra effort.  HR wanted to award the people with a travel option – for some around $1,500 in travel, others, who had really been the workhorses of the project, up to $3,000.

Easy-peasy I said.  No worries.  I’ll get right on that.  And, I said, “You might want to consider doing something that they could put in their cubes to commemorate their recognition.  Nothing expensive – just something a bit more permanent.”  

I explained to my HR contact, that while the travel award was a great idea – having something that would stay around for a while and remind them of the travel experience after the fact would be nice. And, I suggested, the commemorative item would be viewed by others in the organization, who would then see how the company valued extra effort – and subtly communicate the behaviors the company valued.  A huge win-win.

Well, you’da thought I’d killed their cat.  I got a look that not-so-subtly communicated that the idea of a permanent award was the.dumbest idea.ever.  The HR person went on to explain to me in the same voice you use with a three-year old…

“We don’t want anyone to know we’re doing this.  We are going to tell the recipients not to talk about it.  They aren’t allowed to tell ANYONE.  We don’t want other employees knowing that we did this.  Think about it.  If this got out, everyone would expect to be recognized and get a reward.  Everyone.  I can’t handle that.  I don’t have a way to do that – nor do I have the budget.  We’re just going to keep this very quiet.”

Okaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy…. Stealth Recognition coming right up!

HR Is About Being Invisible

That was when I learned that for most companies, great HR is invisible HR.  In many cases, top brass believes that the HR you never hear about is the HR that is doing their job.  Keeping the masses quiet. Keeping the problems from surfacing.  Keeping the lid on anything that might smell of teen spirit.

HR is the Stealth Ninja.  They come in and do their job and leave and everyone wonders how it got done.  No muss.  No fuss.

And no change.

I’m convinced that the HR person in my story would probably have been a better contributor to the organization if they had made this recognition HUGE.  They should have screamed it from the top of the building – and down the tony mahogany hallways.  They should have made sure EVERYONE saw the award.  But they wanted it stealthy, sneaky.

HR Should Be Loud and Proud

My recommendation – HR should be the loudest department in the building.  HR should be out in front, leading the charge, taking the risks.  HR is the one department in the entire company that represents the people – the employees – the real engine of differentiation.  Each day that HR stays stealthy is another day your people are hidden from the top brass and another day they are NOT seen as valuable.

Be noisy.  Be loud.  Be radical.

Don’t be a Stealth Ninja.