I have come across different organizations belonging to different industries with very little in common among them. However, the one thing that was distinctly common was that the HR in all these organizations was at the periphery, sufficiently distanced from the business (This now puts in perspective why most of the HR discussions over the last 10 years have been dominated by the issue of HR closely partnering the business). Consequently, the common aspect of my journey in all these organizations has been my constant endeavor to march from the periphery towards this business core. All the relevant information and key stakeholders lie in this business core, wherein the HR Head is trying to get a chair or hold onto a chair. Needless to say, this has been the single most difficult aspect of my job as well. But the one thing that has invariably affected the degree of success in reaching out to the business core is the equity of the HR leader I partnered. This is basically the individual equity created by HR leader with regard to the top management, senior leadership and to some extent system wide. This should not be confused with the system-wide equity created by the HR department over a long period of time.
There are three instances that I would like to highlight on my experiences with the HR leaders. In a high equity situation, the HR leader commands a certain respect and trust, which is born out of the equity itself. This automatically gets inherited by every member of his function as they are seen as his representatives. I was quick enough to realize the same and use it to my advantage. The warm reception I got from all key stakeholders and the extent to which I could extract the latent needs of the organization could not have been possible but for the trust I earned for my lineage to my HR leader. The business trusting me with major restructuring initiatives having high business impact is something I still cherish.
In the second instance, I operated with a leader who had very low or zero equity in the system. Obviously, I had to spend that extra effort in establishing that initial trust, which was gifted to me in the earlier instance. As a young professional, I was at times frustrated by the delay caused due to this trust building phase. But I did learn it the hard way, the value that trust-based relationships play in the success of your interventions. In the larger timeframe, you actually save on time resulting in higher efficiency. And in the larger picture, this gave me the space to create my own individual equity vis-à-vis the system.
And I was still complaining until I started working for a HR leader who had managed to create something called negative equity. Now negative equity is a strong word that connotes eroding of value. But I will not hesitate to use it for relationships marred by distrust generate similar fears among the members of the organization. Here was a leader who, for reasons beyond the scope of this blog, had successfully created a negative equity to a large extent. Now when I was viewed as his representative, a good share of that negative equity affected me. I never complained in the first instance, I was not complaining now either. The organization refused to accept the fact that I can have an agenda different from that of my HR leader. Consequently, the effort that went in to create my individual equity and then to neutralize the negative equity of my leader was in no way comparable to my previous efforts. Simple activities like creation of individual development plans for the purpose of employee development were perceived as Performance Improvement Programs on the eve of involuntary termination. Major HR initiatives like restructuring and talent management just did not take off because of the lack of business sponsors. In such a scenario, all your trust-building efforts goes into neutralization of the negative equity created by the leader and not into any real value creation for the organization.