I had the privilege of closing a learning session for one of the biggest HR groups in the Philippines last April 8 and I took it as an opportunity to talk about Leadership as an important HR skill. I had very little time to talk about it so I decided to write this article.
One of the speakers talked about HR people being in the same situation as a “bibingka” (rice cake) because we take the heat from the top and from below. This is because we receive complaints from top management and from the employees. People don’t seem to appreciate what we do. That’s probably why many say that HR is a thankless job.
During my speech I asked the participants if they wish not to be bibingka anymore. They said yes. I told them to ask me how and they did. Here’s what I said and the rest of what I want to say about the matter. If you want to stop being a bibingka, there’s a few things that you need to do:
- Move away from the middle. HR often thinks that they job is to serve as a bridge between management and employees. It has become a common belief that management tend to relay directions and decisions through the HR and employees tend to voice out their gripes about management to HR expecting that these will be addressed. When HR fails to deliver on those expectations, they naturally get under fire. I do not agree that this is HR’s role. I believe that HR’s role is not to mediate but to facilitate open communication between management and employees. This can be done by creating venue for conversation and consultation. It also helps to capacitate them for effective communication. A venue is useless if people don’t know how to use their voice – both employees and management. So one of HR’s important role if you ask me is helping build the communication culture in the organization. When both management and employees know how to talk and listen, they won’t need HR to stand in the middle.
- Be a Leader – Stop being an order taker. Of course, this is easier said than done. We are in a country where the dominant culture is that people behave and talk according to their place in the organizational structure. Often, HR is placed in positions where they are expected to follow orders and sometimes even operate in a vacuum. It’s very ineffective. HR needs to learn leadership from the middle. Many people are beginning to realize that leadership is not a position but a disposition. We need to learn how have the disposition of leadership. We need to build the necessary competence and confidence to influence the organization. In his book HR Competencies, David Ulrich described the capabilities we need to develop as HR professionals to become a more effective partner to our stakeholders in the organization. I suggest that you explore this further if you wish to get out of the order-taker hole that you’re in. Here's a nice article to help you understand these competencies if you haven't read about them yet.
I have not seen a successful HR professional who is not a leader. When I listen to the talks of those who have accomplished a lot in this field I see leadership more than technical competence as the main reason why they are successful. We need to change our mental model on our role and embrace a leadership mindset. We need to acquire the necessary courage to lead, the hunger to learn and the willingness to go out of the traditional HR box we’re in.