Can we stop the rot?

2007

I work in a multi-national company and am trying to make a difference each and every day. I look after the training function within a sub-group. I have colleagues in the HR department who are also trying hard to do the same.

However, all our plights are in vain and senior management will not take any action on the numerous issues we bring to their attention as areas for improvement. All "people" issues are seen as priority #2 next to all the "urgent operational" matters.

We basically have two camps. First, the "seniority" group who've been here for so long that they feel they deserve the promotion, the fat pay check and title regardless of whether they know what they're doing or not.

Then there's the other group of hopefulls (us) who are trying to add some meaning and purpose into the 9-5 grind and bring a fresh perspective.

Another big factor to consider is the politics behind all the major decisions. So and so is the daughter of an important client so let's put her in a senior role in HR where she gets to obstruct the daily flow of work with her attitude. Or here's a disheartened employee from IT why not bring him into HR and pay him 50% more than the rest of the team because of ties with so and so in management - the list goes on.

Funny part is that all our locations have been complaining incessantly about the inefficiencies of these particular people but no action is being taken.

People who have worked hard and with all honestly feel completely demotivated, demoralized and depressed. How can people move up or see future prospects with they are being sidelined this way?

My colleagues and I feel we can truly turn things around but need to know how to go about it and where to start.

How can I motivate my colleagues and shift their attention from looking for other jobs all day? How can we get people to speak up without risking being fired unjustly?

Sometimes we wonder whether top management is as concerned with all the issues as we are, we have many brainstorming sessions and plan ways of improving the situation not for us as individuals but as a functional group.

Any thoughts?

TJ, UAE

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Andy Parsley's Answer:

To me this is a situation which requires similar thinking to the martial art of judo.

Your "senior opponents" in this situation are bigger and more powerful than you are, and if you try to take them on through direct confrontation you will not succeed. However, by channelling their strength and momentum in the direction you want to go you might just get to where you want to be.

So ask yourself (1) what do these senior people want to achieve for themselves? (money, power, security, status ... whatever), and (2) what are the issues they have to address to achieve these things? (in this case it's probably solving the "urgent operational matters" you have identified).

Think about these questions long and hard. Then identify those issues where you believe HR can make a real difference and the senior individuals who are likely to derive the greatest personal advantage by successfully resolving these issues.

You then need to demonstrate to your targeted senior executive(s) exactly how HR and Training interventions will solve their problems (ideally in a way that's better, simpler or cheaper than the alternatives) and, critically but discretely, how supporting the implementation of these initiatives will give them the personal outcomes they are after.

Naked self-interest will look after the rest - all you'll need to do then is deliver on your promises!

As for the "incompetent" group, with the above in place you'll simply need to demonstrate how they will potentially get in the way of solving the problems and they will soon get moved on. Being harsh, the most likely reason they were foisted on HR in the first place is that the function is currently perceived as being so ineffectual that it's somewhere where these misfits can be put where they won't do any damage. Prove HR's value to the organisation, however, and they'll be gone.

Identifying "areas for improvement" that senior managers place little importance on makes ANY function a nuisance in their eyes (and, worse than that, a nuisance that clearly doesn't understand the "real" issues the organisation is having to wrestle with).

On the other hand, a function which clearly understands the issues and which can help address these whist making the senior team look smart are an asset which will be invested in and nurtured. Which of these are you now? And which of these would you like to be?

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About our Expert

Andy Parsley
Andy Parsley

Andy Parsley helps organisations positively engage with two key audiences: their employees and their customers both existing and potential. A marketing communications expert, he is the founder of Green Lion Insights and Solutions an employee engagement consultancy and a regular writer and speaker on employment issues.