When I was a kid, my favorite bedtime stories were the ones with a point (even then, I was a real piece of work) – so my inclination was to steer far away from frivolity in lieu of some good ol’ Aesop. Face it, if you want a good metaphor, you need to kick it old school with the Ancient Greeks.
One of my favorites is the story about the “Wind & the Sun.” Two great forces of nature in a competition to see who was, in fact, stronger. A passing traveler makes the contest possible, as the Sun suggests they see which is able to force the stranger into removing his coat. The wind, full of bluster, blows harder and harder in an attempt to whip the coat off the man’s body, but the man only grabs his coat more snugly around him, refusing to let go. The Sun, however, decides to slowly turn up the heat, making the man warmer and warmer, until the man finally decides to take off his own coat.
In Human Resources, there’s a tendency to be the wind ~ more policy, more rules, tighter regulations, harsher punishments. I know I’m guilty of advising the same type of action, especially in a particularly sticky situation. Strike hard, strike decisively, and deliver an unmistakable message. The problem with that, of course, is that we are a business unit built on our ability to influence – yet we often default to our perceived empowerment to dictate, even using the dreaded “zero tolerance” mindset at times. Big mistake.
Of every attribute needed by an HR professional, the ability to influence effectively is by far the most important ~ it is also, for many people, the hardest skill to develop. Make sure you recognize your default pattern when in crisis mode and fight against the urge to lean on policy. You can “force” someone to take action, but when you can convince others to remove their own “coat,” you have truly made the jump to a Business Partner.
John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources.