Updated: Oct 9
A smart person once said to me "stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves. It's ok, you will really help them."
I have reflected on that statement over the years and those who have worked with me will understand that statement. And over the years, my stance on that has only changed slightly as I have moved from employee to business owner.
When I was at Goldman Sachs Human Resources, I instigated a lot of positive change within the arenas I was in. It wasn't rocket science, they were mostly common sense things that made people's lives easier or more meaningful and improved retention. I had great clients, and I was lucky enough to have three fantastic managers in Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo, who also saw things differently and supported causes that I felt were worthy of changing. For me, Goldman Sachs was a 14 year period of my life where I worked very hard (routinely 100+ hours per week), for the best people and got a lot of job satisfaction. I was honoured to lead the dream team in my roles there and we still keep in touch to this day.
However, when I had my daughter, I went through a huge internal struggle. I had all the same thoughts that many mothers do . . .
"Am I neglecting my daughter by working?"
"Will she end up in counselling to get over her neglected childhood?"
"How will I get to her school plays when she needs me?"
"Will she forget who I am?"
"Do I really want someone else raising my daughter?"
When you become a new parent, your senses become heightened - almost like new found super-powers! Your peripheral vision becomes enhanced, you become aware of every baby crying within a mile radius to see if it is yours, and you sleep with one eye and one ear open until they leave home. Then the doubts creep in too, and of course that is because you are now responsible for another human being. Safety takes on a whole new meaning when you become a parent! So the questions above are not unique to me, and no I would never have neglected my daughter but then you go on social media and read an article about the pros and cons of working parents, which equals neglect in some circles. And so the cycle continues . . .
I became a single parent when my daughter was just over two years old. It was the biggest shock of my life. And it made the above questions even more poignant and that much harder to ignore. And then came more questions as I was the only person who was in my daughter's world. If I didn't make it to the school play / concert / sports day / teachers day then would my daughter feel like an orphan, abandoned by the grown-ups she had been raised with? Surely that would scar her for life, wouldn't it?
At that point, it would have been very helpful to have had some kind of outside intervention that was not labeled as "counselling" but rather, a series of conversations around how best to navigate a brand new set of circumstances.
The only things we are assured of when we come into this world are change, and death. Everything else is up for grabs. To have had a conversation with someone who could really understand what I was going through, how I felt pulled in all directions and didn't know how to stop the world spinning, would have been of immense value. For many people it is a worse scenario. I was lucky, my managers were supportive but the parameters within which they had to navigate were archaic.
My daughter was five years old when it all came to a crisis point for me as that was the age where she really was becoming aware of things around her. She looked at me one night and said "Mom what's wrong?" I replied with "oh I am ok honey, just thinking about what to do, whether to leave work or stay because I want to be with you." She came to sit next to me, put her hand on my shoulder and said "if you want to spend more time with me, find another job. If you want to spend less time with me, do the job you are doing". I resigned the next day.
Now with my clients, I am able to have full empathy for the employees who struggle with time stressors and as a business owner, I understand the other side of the coin.
Ten years on, nothing much has changed. Women have been having babies since the dawn of time. The smartest and most successful managers know how brilliantly women multi-task, and even more so after having a baby. We learn to inhale our food, take a 60 second shower, prepare dinner while supervising homework and taking a conference call. All of these things and more are routinely performed by parents every single day. Successful managers know that they have a commodity in any parent (female or male) that their hire and it is not a huge ask to try to accommodate that parent for a flexible work arrangement, or a reduced work week, or working from home every now and again. Is it? It is not unreasonable, but far too many companies are losing staff because of the lack of flexibility and support when they return to work after having a baby.
I am frankly appalled by what is presented in the industry that I have loved for over 20 years. Human Resources is routinely called "Human Remains" and in certain companies I have witnessed a bulling mentality where the HR manager is like a version of "big brother". They set themselves up as a roadblock to getting anything created or changed and wait for the phone to ring rather than proactively looking for ways to partner with their clients. Look to the flip side of that, there are those CEOs or company/department managers who look upon HR as the lowest form of life who are there just to execute their directives and must not ask too many questions or put up the roadblocks. I have seen Facebook groups where "HR experts" have opined on all sorts of things right down to judging how compensation should be based on how someone is dressed at the workplace or whether they can reel off their elevator speech.
Lots of judgement is happening on both sides. Why can't we just be nicer? Why can't we, as a race of humans, step above what is happening in front of our noses and look at what we CAN change. We can't take on every cause in the world, but we can change what is happening in the workplace. Human Resources are well placed to be able to do this, but the industry itself seems to be going backwards.
In 20 years, HR hasn't progressed much. This makes me sad, because this is my industry, and working with / training people is my forte.
There are a few companies who have radically shifted their own company HR, and this is really wonderful to see. They have inspired leadership who take coaching and advice to really better themselves and inject diversity into their decision making. Those leaders are brilliant. Those leaders succeed. But en masse, there has not been much progress at all. Is this because HR professionals have tried and been silenced too many times so have given up for fear of being labeled a trouble maker or losing their job? Or is it because HR professionals are not being trained properly, so those who prefer to direct from a distance are creating the same style of HR professional to go on and perpetuate the same behaviour?
Human Resources is best placed to make amazing changes within the workplace. They also have the power to positively or negatively affect an employee's life at any firm. I am appalled by stories where employees have been bullied by HR professionals. These HR professionals need to be trained in order to make the right decisions, with objectivity and compassion, not out of ego or spite. Conversely, business managers need to start partnering with and investing in their HR and not use them simply as execution people to get a contract done or process payroll. They are so much more than this.
Here is my ideal model to enable a successful collaboration between an HR professional and their CEO / business partner:
1. Know each other's worth. Meaning, as the CEO know what your HR manager can do to further the ultimate success of your business. As the HR manager, know where your worth sits within the business and what you need to do to positively affect the ultimate goal of the business.
2. Collaborate. Partner with each other. At least once a year the business needs to be reviewed in terms of its structure and talent. Senior managers PLUS HR should be in that meeting.
3. Practice what you preach. For the CEO, do not exclude your HR manager from people discussions. HR should not have to fight to be in a meeting; they should not be blind-sided or told to "clean up" when an employee turns rogue and you have had a hand in that scenario without their knowledge or counsel. Be smart about this - keep your HR manager informed of each people issue, so that he/she can talk knowledgeable and with the best interests of the company, should an issue arise later.
4. Communicate. The success of any business is this one major area called communication. Businesses are run by human beings; the need for open communication is necessary to avoid unnecessary conflict, judgment or disappointments. It will make or break a business. It will define whether an employee remains at a firm. People don't leave companies, they leave managers. The need for transparency between HR and the business is vital.
5. Innovate. Look at your business and decide on the best "people" structure that makes sense FOR YOUR BUSINESS. There is no need to copy others, they aren't you. Take inspiration from others by all means, but HR and the business need to come to each issue with a different lens. There is great power in this, and by having a safe platform to create out-of-the-box ideas without judgment, and explore opportunities that will help your bottom line / retain talent, you will succeed where other businesses will fail.
6. People are your currency. This is without exception. One of the worst terms to be created in business is "back office" to describe those who are the nuts and bolts of the business. Any company needs an avenue to bring money into the firm, but then they also need to know what to do with that money and ensure all regulations are met. Pay your people well. Recruit the best, inspire them, train them, motivate them, and invest in them. Then you have a shot at retaining them.
7. Be humble and respectful. Know when to ask advice from each party to enable you to know all the facts of the situation. Only then can the right decision be made. Respect each other's skillsets. Just because you are the CEO of the company, you don't know everything. Just because you are HR, don't expect others to see things in the same way you do. Be humble enough to question things, and ask for advice from the subject-matter experts. There is no-one on the planet who knows everything, and each day is a learning experience for everyone. Smart leaders understand that they learn from their teams every day. Dictatorships ultimately fail.
8. Always move forward. If you are an HR manager, research and create ways to improve the business for your clients. Talk to your employees, get feedback from them. Tailor-make the solutions so that they make sense to your clients. Be proactive without being over-powering. Suggest ideas and how they will make things better, without demanding that they be implemented. Perfect your listening skills so that you are really hearing the issues, and not injecting any pre-conceived ideas that you may have. Speak up when you need to.
I have seen how much the above points can positively impact the success of a business, and the happiness factor of the people turning up for work each day. I have also seen businesses who have failed due to disregarding one or more of the above.
Loyalty is not over-rated; it is earned.
Time is precious, and you don't ever get it back.
Wouldn't it be amazing to go to work each day and say "I love my company!" There needs to be more people saying this, and it starts with a healthy collaboration between Human Resources and the heads of the business.
You have the power to instigate change.
Nikki Jordan is an advocate for creating a 5th dimensional collaborative community that co-creates together, while supporting, loving and respecting every living creature. You can read more about her here https://www.livevibrantly.world/about
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