Why HR hurts HR

The greatest resistance to implementing new talent management practices often comes from within HR itself, writes Marc Effron

Talent management’s success relies largely on the human resource (HR) business partner in most organisations. Business partners broker the relationship with line executives and are responsible for implementing key talent management processes.

While some business partners consistently support talent management, others actively and/or passively block the talent agenda. Their resistance may be driven by control needs, jealously or outright lack of confidence in your abilities. The best, obvious first steps to ensure business partners support are to be functionally excellent and to build strong relationships. However, if despite your best efforts business partners still aren’t supportive, you’ll need to quickly diagnose why and plan how to overcome their resistance. There are a number of things that can go wrong. However, there are also a number of ways to address them.

They’ve “gone native”
“Going native” occurs when the business partner aligns far more closely with their business leader than with the HR function or company agenda.

To solve this, better understand their group and its challenges. They’re going to serve their own needs, so your job is to better understand and, ideally, meet those needs. How can you adapt your process to work in this environment? Can you take a larger role in communicating or training the process? Can it be launched to a portion of the organisation? Also, determine where the real obstacle lies. The business partner might be “brokering” the entirety of HR programs and only be presenting their executive with those programs they believe he or she will support. If the business partner isn’t supportive, subtly ask the executive if he or she supports your proposed process.

They believe they know talent management as well as you
An experienced business partner will likely consider themselves at least as capable as you at talent management, and probably more capable if you haven’t had generalist experience.

To solve this, start with the science. Any resourceful HR leader can find a study by a leading consulting firm that supports any talent concept they want to advance. Your only chance is to remain academically objective and cite what’s scientifically proven to be true.  Listen to their experience as well. Listen to what they advocate, and if some of their ideas are consistent with the talent agenda and supported by the science, thank them and incorporate the ideas.

You’re tearing down what they created
It’s quite likely that a member of your HR leadership team actually built the process that you’re now replacing. They need to save face given your modification effort.

To solve this, honour the past, whether or not you believe it deserves to be honoured. Say something along the lines of: “The process we have today was designed by smart people who created the right process for the business at that time” and/or “Our business has evolved, so we might need to enhance the process to meet our future business needs.”

Talent management practices are too important to our organisations to let them be destroyed by “friendly fire”. While we should always assume that our peers have positive intentions, we should also keep our political radar tuned to pick up the faintest echo of resistance. Too many HR leaders will (understandably) act in their own best interests. Our job is to find a way to align those interests with ours.

The good, old-fashioned power play
Sometimes the resistance to new talent management initiatives comes from a far less subtle place. In a prior corporate role, at my on-boarding meeting with a 20-year company veteran and HR leadership team peer, I was told: “I’ve seen people like you come and go, and I’m just going to keep my head down and do what I do until you leave.” The power player doesn’t necessarily object to your plans. They simply need to maintain their perceived status and ensure that nothing you do encroaches on their “territory” or diminishes their influence in the organisation.

To solve this, use broad-based communications. They can block the process but they probably can’t block communication about the process. Make sure your employee communications strongly sell the benefits of your new talent process and that everyone in the organisation sees those communications. Let the employees in the power player’s department ask him or her to explain why they aren’t getting this new benefit. You can also try jiu-jitsu. Identify a way to make the power player more powerful/successful/respected by supporting your process. Roll out the process or beta test it in their function or region. Have them or their favorite high potential leader lead the process redesign team. Find something that ties them to the project’s ultimate success while making them feel more powerful.