I have never been good at the public confrontation that sometimes exists in the business world. Corporate politics, power struggles, back-stabbing, blaming—I hate most of that. I’m a lover, not a fighter, folks.
What do I love, however? I enjoy watching those awkward moments when someone tries an office power play and fails. The uncomfortable awesomeness of one person trying to intimidate another, and then failing, is as fun as watching Facebook videos of guys falling off of bicycles.
Years ago, we were sitting in a tense meeting with an Operations leader. His unit was losing money and it was time to consider, among other things, a reduction in force. He was defensive, angry and aggressive. We had all the usual suspects in the room: operations, senior executives, finance, accounting, human resources, etc.
Jim, the business leader, was running a meeting to get everyone on the same page about the upcoming job cuts. It was a tough meeting.
Jim didn’t help. He would sprinkle in statements like, “Well, if HR would let us do this the right way, we’d be done with this already and move on,” or “HR won’t let us make the changes we want make…” He was laying into all of us, but had a particular issue with those on the people side. He was obviously trying to deflect some of the blame for his failing unit.
My boss at the time, Todd, let him go for a while, but then finally turned the power play.
“Jim, who exactly are you talking about when you say “HR?” I am confused. Is someone here named HR? Are you talking about me? Is that it?
Let’s do this, Jim. We’ll get through this together if we act like adults. Don’t call me HR. Call me Todd. We’ve given you good advice. You’re angry about it. That’s fine. Disagree with me, but don’t depersonalize who we are as advisors to you. I’m Todd, you’re Jim. If you have an issue with my advice, have the guts to call me by my name. I’m not Corporate; I’m not HR. I’m just trying to help you out of your bad business deal.”
I sat there like the junior kid in the room that I was, never before having seen such a public smack-down that sounded like a line from Destiny’s Child. It was kinda incredible, and I didn’t open my mouth in the office for three days. With years behind me, though, here is what Todd the Yoda taught me.
1. Good HR requires a relationship. If people don’t know you, it’s just a transaction
2. Have an internal reputation that is yours, not your department’s. Make sure your internal clients know who you are, not just your title.
3. You can let people vent, but don’t get pushed around. When it is time to stand up for yourself, do so.
You’ll know you made it in your company when people don’t really know your title. They will just refer to you as the person who gets things done and will come to you to solve all types of HR issues, even ones outside of your specialty. You’ll have relationships with enough people that they almost forget what department you work in, and they’ll call you by your name.
I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life advising leaders to make great talent decisions to drive business results. In my current gig, I lead talent acquisition and management for a multi-billion-dollar, 100% employee-owned construction company. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, etc. and love it when we position folks to do their best work. That’s fun stuff. I tease bad HR people, because I think we can all do better, myself included. That’s fun, too.