A Note of Gratitude

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Mary Jane Nirdlinger

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I was talking recently with someone about my interactions with human resources over the years and it caused me to stop and think. I’ve learned alot from HR professionals and your work has caused me to change my approach to my own work. Some examples of how you have done this:

1. You listen to what I am saying. Then you listen for what I am not saying.

I remember an ombuds from another organization who said, “If you’re telling me you need to fire somebody, I’m going to ask you what you’ve done to help that person succeed.”

That statement summed up one of the most important lessons about working with people. Digging into a situation is a skill, and it takes time. Time to listen, time to reflect, and time to develop a solution.

It’s easy to get emotionally vested in a particular outcome when we’re dealing with an employee situation. Non-HR types don’t even realize we’re putting on blinders. We know what we think is the solution and how we want to get there.

Sometimes, I want this person gone, really means, I don’t know how to help this person succeed and I feel helpless.

By asking questions to delve into the particulars and drawing on the perspective that comes with broad experience, you help us slow down so we can understand what is really fueling our current situation and how to map out a path forward.

2. You take time to think.

HR professionals spend time accumulating knowledge and experience. It’s what fuels your great advice and personalized guidance. When you share your experience with the rest of us, our abilities as an organization increase exponentially.

I am sure it is tempting to just answer our questions and move on, especially when the demands on your time far exceed the time you have available each day. For those of us asking, we can get impatient and just want someone to tell us what to do.

I recall a particularly heated 4 o’clock meeting that went on for a couple of hours. As it started to get dark outside, everyone was tired and emotionally wrung-out. The situation was grave and we had worked our way up to a pretty serious decision.

It was late; we agreed to sleep on it and check back in the morning.

The next morning, instead of picking up where we left off and rolling forward, one of the HR professionals was cheerful and full of questions.

Having resigned myself to our previous decision, I wasn’t prepared to rehash the conversation and felt frustrated. However, as the HR professional went through their questions, it became clear that they had been thinking through other situations, drawing parallels and identifying options we might have overlooked in our long meeting the day before.

At the end of the conversation, we had chosen a new path, not entirely different, but more fair for those involved and one that, eventually, had very positive results.

This is what you, as HR professionals, do in the role of expert guides. We are frazzled, you ask questions, we offer information, you prod and guide us with your expertise. That’s how we design a better solution, together.

3. You explain your thinking.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in Outliers that it takes about 10,000 hours (and some good fortune) to excel at anything. Managing people is a skill and a tough one at that. The variety of situations you have experienced and the lessons you have gleaned easily add up to 10,000 hours.

Every time one of my partners in HR takes the time to explain the policy or regulations to me, it makes me a better partner to them. I learn why we do things and I learn how to think through the next situation better on my own.

The more I learn, the less likely I will be to bring you a crisis. Which brings me to one of the most useful things you’ve taught me.

4. You see my crisis for what it is: mine.

Nobody is perfect. We inevitably end up with messy, contentious, or uncomfortable situations with a deadline and a great deal of stress. If everyone gets swept into the moment, things go from bad to worse. When you, as my HR partner, keep a clear head and maintain your ability to be flexible as a situation unfolds, you show me how to be compassionate and empathetic without losing track of the facts.

I remember a meeting where everyone in the room was angry or in tears, with the exception of our HR partner. That person spoke clearly and calmly. They stuck to the facts but maintained a sense of dignity and reassurance as they spoke. In spite of my own racing heart and whirling mind, I was in the presence of someone who had a handle on the situation and it calmed me. It calmed us all.

The HR professional didn’t waver. They didn’t condescend or soft-shoe the situation. They spoke the truth with care. They owned the moment, but not the crisis. That meant the rest of us shifted into addressing the problem.

I have learned a lot from my partnerships with HR professionals, with more learning to come, I am sure. Everybody wins by recognizing the critical role played by Human Resources. You have the ability to be our partners in many ways, shaping a workplace where people are able to have fun and grow while they work.

You may not hear it often enough, but thank you.

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