Dragons That Can Burn Your Culture:
How HR Can Be Your Strategic Weapon
By Don Schmincke and Darryl McCormick
companies, Human Resources is utilized as a support department
rather than a strategic resource. That is, the executive team
expects the HR staff to work behind the scenes, creating policies
and procedures and hiring and firing, rather then being in the
forefront and driving change. In a complacent market this can work,
but in a changing or competitive situation this breeds dangerous
conditions which, if ignored, can impact today’s performance and
risk tomorrow’s success.
as a strategic resource for your company’s future, however, allows
your organization to reach goals faster and improve overall
performance more effectively. For example, when CEOs partner with
the HR team they can better determine how to improve employee
morale, enhance customer satisfaction scores, or implement strategy
organization-wide. Together, they can ask such questions as, “Are we
hiring for the culture we want?” “What kind of employee base will
trigger greater customer satisfaction?” “Do we have the leadership
strength necessary to implement our plans successfully?”
strategic questions like these are often missing. If this sounds
like your organization, then HR may be the strategic weapon against
the “Five Dragons” that can burn your company’s performance.
Dragon #1 - Hope: Are you just throwing consultants at the problem?
Does your organization do so many things to improve performance
yet accomplish so little? Many companies bring in a consultant for
every problem they encounter hoping that this will fix everything.
Not only does this waste a lot of money, but it also devalues your
HR team. Very often, outsiders are not the miracle cure to your
company’s woes. Rather, you need to first identify what the real
problem is versus just the symptoms, and then make changes
internally. HR is the key to doing this.
example, one company thought they had a marketing problem when it
ended up being poor sales training. Another was struggling with
strategic planning when it was really their internal team issues
preventing strategic thinking. What to do? Partner with your HR team
to diagnose what the real underlying challenges are. Often you’ll
find that the problem stems from your company’s culture of stopping
progress or hiding the problem. Once the real problem is identified,
you and your HR team can devise a plan to turn things around.
Dragon #2 - Politeness: Is being “nice” more important than
performing? Rather than reveal the truth about a situation,
people will often seek to be polite and avoid the discomfort, anger,
and unpleasantries. By burying the issue or keeping it within a
closed group of confidants we hope it goes away. Instead, this
Dragon ensures the issues “Drag-on.” In one organization the
Division President was shocked that someone noted what people
really thought in a meeting’s minutes. “What if someone reads
this!” he said. Unfortunately, they didn’t need to read it; they
already knew it. Everyone, that is, except the executive team.
slay this dragon you can move past the deceptions and verbalize the
real issues. Yes, telling the truth will upset people and cause
discomfort, but when you start being honest, you’ll see significant
improvement. As you do this, look to HR to help get at the truth and
filter honest dialogue into the organization so change can occur.
Additionally, allow HR to help you make sure you have systems in
place that enable people to tell the truth such as performance
evaluations, feedback methods, and training systems that support the
culture you want.
Dragon #3 - Dead Weight: Is what you’re holding onto dragging you
down? This third Dragon prevents great people from assuming
leadership. It also keeps mediocre performers on staff. Many
companies have policies in place that actually prevent marginal
performers from being let go. For example, a company may require
five written warnings before someone can be terminated. Look at your
policies and work with HR to create fair systems that enable you to
effectively deal with the dead weight that stalls performance. Then,
have HR train your managers on how to use the new policies. Too many
times a manager will want to fire someone, but when HR checks the
employee’s file, they find that the manager gave the employee
stellar reviews. When asked why the manager did this, he or she
often replies, “I didn’t want to hurt the employee’s feelings.” So
HR needs to work with managers to change this culture. As an added
benefit, once you start removing that dead weight, other employees
will be happier. Great people want to work with great people, and to
know that management notices what they contribute.
Dragon #4 - Phantom Leadership: Who are the real leaders your people
follow? Many programs are stifled because the managers on the
organizational chart are not the leaders the staff are following.
That’s right…people are following the wrong leaders. The
formal leadership declares an initiative but the phantom
leadership is who the people really listen to. Therefore, you need
to cultivate the right talent by having HR identify the real
champions in the company—those people who can really lead. Realize
that these champions do not have to be technically competent but
should be able to inspire others to follow them towards where the
organization wants to go. So allow HR to select those leaders and
invest the time and money to train them with the appropriate
leadership skills. If your company continues to follow the wrong
leaders, you’ll go nowhere quick.
Dragon #5 – Ego: Does the evil spirit justify the status quo?
This is the most dangerous Dragon. It ensures the others stay alive.
It guarantees that decision-makers never see the problem or, if they
do, it is successfully avoided. For thousands of years this has been
the culprit that has collapsed the largest of companies. Why else
would an executive ignore serious market shifts? Why else would a
manger avoid the truth, or keep suppressing it? Why else would
someone’s selfish agendas put a company at risk? This Dragon will
sacrifice a company if it has to. Does HR have the CEO’s ear so they
can safely convey critical issues? Using HR as a strategic resource
allows the CEO to ensure this Dragon doesn’t start eating the
organization guarantees the real issues are exposed.
Sharpen the Sword: To keep these Dragons at bay, HR as a
strategic partner is essential. For many companies, however, HR is
the missing element in any plan for change and improvement. But this
begs a deeper question: Does HR have the skills, talent, and
expertise necessary to fulfill a strategic role in the company? If
so, you’re underutilizing a valuable asset for driving performance.
If not, then how can HR develop or acquire these elements? Or does
it want to?
cases the current HR staff is too overwhelmed with policy changes,
hiring activities, benefits management, terminations, and other
back-office demands to have time to assume a more strategic role. In
others, the department may not want to change or will feel
threatened by it. In either case, sharpening the sword by
transforming HR into a strategic resource takes leadership and
commitment. For many companies who now realize people are the
greatest asset, this is an investment they cannot afford to ignore.
Dragons breed quickly, and they’ve toppled even the largest of
organizations. The more you develop and sharpen a strategic HR
function which the CEO can partner with, the fewer you will have to
kill. And the further and faster your company will grow profitably.
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