Monday, May 17, 2010

It's NOT My Problem! Oh Really?

Think about almost any organizational issue you currently have.  I would almost bet that 90% of the root cause of the issue is a "people-related" issue.  Think about these examples:

You (HR VP) are in your weekly executive meeting and you hear that sales are down for the first quarter.  Sales have been creeping up for the last two quarters as the country eases out of the recession.  Your company had forecasted a 3% increase and instead you had a 5% decrease.  You as the HR VP could say, "That is a sales issue."  Instead, being the business partner you are, you ask some really good questions like:

1) Did customer needs shift?  If so, are the sales people aware of those shifts?  (training and communication)
2) Where in the sales cycle are sales declining?  Leads, proposals, closes, etc.  Has there been a change in sales people or new people added to the team? (training and process)
3) Are our solutions not meeting our customers needs?  What feedback are salespeople receiving from customers?  Do we need to create new solutions? (product development)
4) Are our sales people doing their homework on the customer, industry and competition?

Consider another example:

You (HR VP) are in your weekly executive meeting and you hear the company is losing business because of ship times being longer than the competition.  Instead of considering the issue an "Operations Problem" you ask the following:

1) Have we analyzed our shipping process to determine where the bottlenecks are?
2) Can we negotiate better terms with our freight vendors?
3) Can we study our manufacturing processes to determine if we are as efficient as we can be?  (lean principles)

In the examples above HR is involved in the problem solving, thus becoming part of the solution that will lead to a better result.  If you start with the problem as being a symptom, and it usually is, then you can peel back the onion to get to root cause.  And since we are mostly a service based economy, the answer is usually a people issue.  Now, that is being strategic and adding value!

In his book, Roadmap to Strategic HR, Turning a Great Idea into a Business Reality, Ralph Christensen states:

It is not enough to be present at the table just as the "expert on people issues," to sit and wait until a "people problem" comes up, and then get engaged in the discussion. 

I think it is a fair assumption that most all business issues are people issues so get in the discussion early and watch what happens.

What is your experience with business issues and problem solving?  Do tell....


Drew Hawkins said...

I really like your positioning in this post. Instead of taking part in a "blame game" you are encouraging HR VPs to initiate problem solving instead. Finger pointing or complacent "it's not my problem" attitudes are detrimental for a business. Good post.

Unknown said...

Thanks Drew and I appreciate your feedback! I hate finger pointing as well. It is very unproductive! Can you let Congress in on this little secret :)

Barbara A Hughes said...

This is exactly right! Brilliant stuff. The questions you pose for your hypothetical VP HR indicate a level of curiosity about the business, about finding solutions, about sharing knowledge.
So, are people like this because of some internal orientation or because the leadership and culture expect this level of excellence? Or, is the VP just being "mavericky"?

Unknown said...

That is a great question. I think that depends. It could be all three depending on the situation. Sometimes you can be a maverick in a really messed up company! I think it is all about what you said, finding solutions, a new mindset for HR!

Chris Young said...

Awesome post Cathy - I couldn't agree more! If HR really wants that "seat at the table" it will have to start by learning the business of their organizations and coming with potential solutions to problems wherever they pop up.

I've shared your post with my readers in my weekly Rainmaker top five blog picks of the week (found here: to remind them of their responsibility to think outside their department and make an impact wherever possible.

Be well!

Unknown said...

Wow! Chris thanks so much for doing that. I really appreciate it. I thought I had you added to my blog roll, but I don't. I am going to do that now. Have a great day!!!