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My neighbor is a busy dude. Nurse by day and DIY-er (Do it yourself) by night. And when I say DIY, I mean this dude will try to tear down and rebuild anything! Being a non-DIYer, I just listen to his stories, sometimes envious because the results sound cool, other times skeptical and thankful because I don’t believe in giving amateurs that much responsibility and control of my money and time.
Just like anyone that does any sort of construction work, he’s shared with me instances where he thought a job would be simple, only to get a layer or two in and realize that the issue is far more complex than he originally thought. Sometimes the issues have multiple layers; a lot of history, problems caused by years and years of bad decisions and foundational inefficiencies. Sound familiar? Welcome to the world of a newly appointed Human Resources professional.
Already overwhelmed by the fact that you’re the new guy or gal in the organization and everyone else has known one another and all of the backstories for 20 years, you’re faced with being thrust in to the midst of backroom deals, favors, inequity, inconsistency, intimidation and just plain pettiness. Coming in vowing to do the right things and to ensure fairness, consistency and to set the proper standard, you quickly learn that that isn’t the way business has been done.
How do you navigate? How do you combat? How do you go home at night not feeling slimy and as if you haven’t made a mistake by accepting what you thought was the opportunity of a lifetime?
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Take Advantage of Your Newness
When I first started a new position I told a colleague that, “I’m new…I don’t have any friends here, so I’m worried about loosing any.” This was in response to my telling someone “No” about an issue that was against policy that they had been allowed to do for years. I let them know that I wasn’t trying to make enemies either, but who in their right mind is gonna tell the new HR person, “No, we don’t follow policy here”? No one. So your newness is the perfect time to stick to the letter of the law…because technically (and as far as they’re concerned) that’s all you know.
Get It All In Writing
When companies tend to freestyle, very seldom are procedures in writing. Now is the time to fix that. There may be email threads of “agreements” or the historical hearsay as to why things are done the way they are, but succumbing to these practices are the quickest way to get swept up in the mess. When people start to ask for things that don’t seem to be on the up and up, send the request in writing…then watch how quickly they pick up the phone to discuss it with you. And if you are asked (or directed) to do something from a higher-up that you know is unethical or risky, be sure to document what your advice to them was for that moment when the stuff hits the fan. I’m not saying that you still won’t be held accountable for it, but at least you can show that you weren’t in agreement and that you suggested alternatives.
Pay Attention…to Everything
Every moment, every conversation, every email in HR is an opportunity to learn. From every interaction, one can determine who’s trying to do what. Who’s
means well. Who just doesn’t know. Who knows better but is still trying to get their way regardless. Most importantly, it’s critical to get out and speak to the people that you are serving. Learn their stories, needs and what they are interested in. These interactions help to get a good read on what’s going on in the trenches of the organization, what the training needs are and who’s talents can be of service to help take the company forward in a positive way.
After doing all of these things, you must be honest with yourself and determine if working for the organization is worth the time and investment that it will take to change it’s course. Does the victory outweigh the fight? Are the long-term bumps and bruises worth the seemingly unnecessary and uncomfortable decisions and conversations? Are you selling your soul? Only you can decide. But if you believe in what the company is supposed to stand for, then stand in there like a tree and right the ship. If not, while you’re doing the 3 thing listed above, keep your resume updated, continue to develop professional connections and be ready and willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure that you can live with yourself and that your mental and emotional health stay in tact. Sometimes the only way to combat the systemic cultural issues that plague an organizational is to uproot some stuff…and sometimes that means you.