Many HR functions that extol the value of feedback dont seem to apply it to themselves, moans the Workplace Warrior
The HR professional is often guilty of coming up with absolute peaches of language bastardisation (just think of cascading through the organisation and right-sizing), but the greatest ignorance they display is of a word that they probably use more than any other feedback. Im not saying they dont understand it or even in some cases ensure that others apply it properly, but in my experience and that of one irate reader from Tamworth who vented his spleen on paper to me recently they rarely apply it to themselves.
CFOs have auditors to keep them in line, MDs are usually kept in check by a board, and myriad other reporting structures in most companies ensure there are checks and balances to ensure the best is achieved from human output. The beef I have is that the very people who extol the value and methods of getting feedback are the ones that are able to get away with not seeking it themselves. HR is one function that, in my experience, rarely practises what it preaches. Why? Because it can.
As you read this, I suspect you will fall into one of two camps. Some will grudgingly or even smugly accept that as long as they get the basics right they are left to set and manage their own standards. Few MDs or even boards are made up of individuals who were once HR directors, and HR output often becomes a reactionary support unit as a result. Most of the others reading this column will fall into the denial camp they really believe that the whole company celebrates what a truly proactive, caring, insightful and dynamic team the HR department is.
To those in the first camp I say: Congratulations, youre getting away with it. But is the irony that the board is made up from disciplines other than HR lost on you? To the second I say: Cobblers, you deluded con artists. HR should set a standard to which all other departments aspire is that really true in your case? Do you have a very visible departmental culture that others try to ape? Does your team inspire in the same proportion as it provides support? Do you still feel that youre as good as you could be? No? Welcome back to the real world youve just given yourself some feedback.
If your complacency has taken a knock by this honesty, its time to get some real feedback. Getting an honest appraisal of what difference you and your department makes is a challenge. It can either encourage cuddly opinions from people who feel the truth would not be in their interests, make you look insecure and paranoid, or pose the question to the very people who have no frame of reference from which to give you an answer that would be useful.
Its possible that HR consultants could help here, but I suspect that you know most of the answers yourselves. The solution to uncapping your departmental potential could be found by someone like you from one of the better-run HR departments. HR forums and the HR 100 Club (see page 26) are full of people who are not necessarily better than you but, perhaps because they have managed to find truly effective feedback, they head a department that directs their whole company culture rather than just produces reports. Gold standards can be found in the pages of this magazine from people that would in many cases be happy to take a phone call or answer an email today to share their experiences. But the British neither look for constructive criticism nor speak to strangers. I would advise our Tamworth reader to put this to his HR team. Its time to take a leaf from the Americans book and go reach out and touch someone. After all, how can the very people who really should be setting the departmental standards that the rest of their company aspire to, be expected to judge themselves?
Having found a frame of reference to give a truly objective account of what a difference you are or arent making, you need to draw up your own agenda for change. Set standards, tasks and objectives that would truly release your potential, and ensure you have the means to reach them. Measure these standards and your progress against them, communicate your journey to the rest of the company and make a much, much bigger contribution. You want feedback? You must try harder.