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The Problems We Have Are Human Problems

When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. To that degree, I think people in human resources think about business problems as human problems. We take the mantra of people as our greatest asset and turn it on its side to diagnose problems.

  • Are we hiring the wrong people? We need to train managers again!
  • Problems with the quality of your product? Put in better supervision and training!
  • Bidding out projects isn’t going as well? Time to talk to Jim and Jane again about doing a better job!

I won’t belabor the point because I think this way too. The tools at your disposal in HR are often the most human oriented. Talking through problems and figuring out the way individuals and teams can solve issues is as important of a skill in the HR wheelhouse as any other.

Many of our problems are human problems, too. We have the wrong people in the wrong place doing the wrong job. And there are indirect causes of action that impact the way people work: compensation, culture, power, and structure. All of that can be easily understood within the context of people being the key to our success and failure.

Not all of our problems are human problems though.

  • Hiring the wrong people happens because the right tools are never put in place, no matter the training.
  • Product suffers because the process to monitor quality is ineffective (or overbearing enough to create inefficiencies that need to be bypassed at critical moments).
  • Poor bidding success can be because the company is in a weak position financially or lack the internal resources to compete in the market.

In these situations, there is a prevalent attitude to take care of the human issues as best as possible first. Make sure managers are trained as well as possible (even if the tools are inadequate), employees have clear direction (in spite of poor performance) and squeeze the prune for more juice (when your internal resources and finances are tightening up).

That plays right into HR’s sphere. “We’ll get the most out of these employees, even if everything around them is inefficient, poorly thought out or unable to function,” they say.

The message that sends to your employees? Getting the maximum output from them (blood, sweat, tears and all) is more important than getting maximum output across all of the organization’s critical processes. You know what? That’s a pretty messed up message.

This is a leadership area for HR: yes, we can fix the people problems but we also need to fix the process, finances, and tools that prevent work from getting done to its greatest value.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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