Yes, spineless. Lacking in courage and resolve? Unable to stand under its own weight? In a word… spineless.
In a spineless organization, culture is left to chance and the results are as disastrous as they would be if the same were done with sales, R&D, marketing, manufacturing, accounting or any other critical organizational function. Spineless organizations lack the intention to effectively get the most from their people and fail to reap the benefits of Conscious Inclusion, including increased engagement, effective collaboration, and increased innovation; Instead, collapsing under the pressure of disengagement, stagnation and outmoded thinking.
HR is uniquely positioned to impact the development of an inclusive culture throughout an organization.
HR helps bring new talent into the organization.
HR owns many of the processes that allow other business units to execute their functions effectively..
In short, HR can be that spine.
What does the spine do?
Simply put, the human spine:
- Supports the body’s weight.
Sound familiar? To HR professionals, it probably does.
Hiring. Training. Development. Human Resources is charged with managing an invaluable resource: Humans. HR bears much of the weight of shaping, supervising, and supporting the processes that keep the organization standing, day to day, putting the right people in place (hiring) and helping the do their best once in place (development).
- Protects the vulnerable spinal cord and vital organs from injury.
Then, too, HR can be a nerve center, providing a clear conduit for the messages from the “head” (C-Suite) to reach the “hands” (individual contributors), and feedback from the “hands” back to the “head.”
HR also protects the business units that perform the vital functions of the organization. Too often those business units need to be protected from employee complaints and, in the worst cases, lawsuits that force HR professionals into reaction mode. Whether the result of a violated policy or of an unanticipated action, these events dominate time and attention, keeping HR from performing at its peak.
The entire organization pays the price, whether in the form of settlements and judgements or the opportunity cost of functioning at sub-optimal levels year after year.
There is good news, though. There is a proactive cure to what ails the chronically reactive HR department: Cultural Competence. Cultural competence, the ability to interact effectively across lines of difference, transforms reactive process managers into proactive change agents.
Culturally competent HR professionals, armed with the knowledge and skills to practice and model inclusion, take action and change organizational culture rather than being acted upon by an organizational culture in need of change. As a result, HR expands beyond support and protection to some higher level functions:
As culturally competent HR professionals educate others on the power of D&I and its potential impact on business outcomes. Individuals, throughout the organization, who would have proceeded with limited vision, expand their field of vision both through creating more diverse teams and developing a more diverse lens of their own. They hear not only what their colleagues have said, but what they are saying, minimizing the basic misunderstandings and avoidable offenses that land on too many HR desks today. In addition, the ability to “see more” leads teams to identify new opportunities and solutions to present challenges.
There is a basic irony in the experience many of the HR execs are having: To make the most of resources and have maximal impact, they need to “think outside the box.” However, the reactive process manager doesn’t have time to think!
In terms of thought, the proactive change agent creates a positive feedback loop. Building on the education described above, they coach leaders and managers, conveying the thoughts that serve as the foundation of an inclusive culture. As that culture takes hold they are faced with fewer emergencies, freeing up more time to act from a proactive place. They can use that time to provide further coaching, evolving those inclusive thoughts into the inclusive beliefs and behaviors. Freed by a further reduction in emergencies and heightened performance, across the board, they are able to think about even more effective ways to teach and reinforce conclusion, restarting the cycle at higher and higher levels.
It’s been said before and it will be said again:
The bottom line is… the bottom line.
The culturally competent change agent doesn’t simply understand the theoretical value of diversity, but drives the diversification of the workforce. The culturally competent change agent doesn’t simply address the fallout from a flawed exclusive culture, but initiates the transformation to a flourishing inclusive culture. The culturally competent change agent doesn’t just save the organization money when problems arise, but gives rise to opportunities to make money through increased efficiency, innovation, and/or the identification of previously unrecognized opportunities. The culturally competent change agent doesn’t just do a better job; they allow everyone they touch to do their jobs better.
In order to function effectively, all organizations require internal protection and support. Organizations that function at the highest levels require more. They require the increased sensory perception to see new things. They require the shifts in thinking that foster cultural transformation. They require the power to move with speed and purpose, leveraging their competitive advantage. In short, the best organizations require a culturally competent spine. If you are an HR professional, you can be that spine.