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Harassment, Hollywood and Human Resources

It’s disappointing that we had to wait for Hollywood to drive us to change our tolerance for indignities in the workplace. Countless examples - some public, many not - of indecent behavior, troubled colleagues, destructive environments proliferate unquestioned.  Where was HR all these decades? Where was the Board? HR as a function is weak. Boards are weaker. These two bodies (we can also throw in in-house legal) should have been lashing out and quickly at ethical and moral violations but instead gave scripted, safe answers to everything or stay silent drowning in incompetence and fear.

HR should be an organization’s secret weapon to increased profits via strong talent and a competitive culture.


So here are a few 2018 goals for those up to taking a leadership role this year:

1.  Create a culture of honesty, trust, and transparency. I’m a huge fan of pay transparency, open vacation, telecommuting and anything else that treats deserving adults like adults. But these systems can’t be turned on overnight. Only the most well-functioning organizations make them work. Formally assess the health of your organization’s culture and take a few steps to improve it in 2018. If you work for a CEO unwilling or unable to lead this kind of culture with a Board unwilling to change the CEO, find another company to invest your time in.

2.   Hire the right people. Do you have leaders of a function who are great at that function’s core tasks, but terrible at leading the group? We’ve all had a ‘memorable’ service interaction where the service ‘professional’ isn’t into serving us. These people are in the wrong jobs. Roles that demand specific requirements make not only the occupier but also the organization successful. Stop trying to fit people in the wrong role because they want to be promoted or because you want to quickly fill a job. Experts can be paid as much as leaders if their expertise and the scope of their influence is both broad and impactful. Figure it out! And have the courage to disapoint peole with the truth. What are the key success attributes for your most mundane, yet critical roles? Interview the people who do that job well and hire their clones. You could use data analytics, but it’s not necessary. It’s common sense.

3.    Ensure dignity for all. Too many in-house legal and HR leaders focus on harassment and the legal requirements to ‘prevent’ it. They take cookie cutter language and training from their legal council, and check off the box as having completed this responsibility.  Get some courage. Now is the time to set clear policies based on morals. A boss or any kind of influencer should not have a relationship with their subordinates or quasi subordinates. My rule is: one must go. No exceptions! If you have been too lazy to address the issue and fear being accountable for past (non) decisions, now is the time. No decent judge today is going to fall for ‘you let this happen before so it’s still okay now.' The public started yelling about this in 2017.  Educate your employees in January – teach them that decency to all is your focus and encourage them to evaluate their tendencies. Give them a few examples of what is and isn't acceptable.  Decency is in the eye of the responder, not the actor. For example, I was sitting at a window seat on a train with an empty seat beside me and two empty seats facing me. A guy got on the train and took the opposite isle seat. Then he put his computer beside me facing him and his bags on the seat across from me. He began working stretched out in a manner that blocked my ability to exit. I felt boxed in and abrutly got up and left with him startled and wondering.  He was encroaching on all sides and slowly reaching my cherished space…so I thought. Perhaps his intentions were pure – he needed to spread out to work effectively. It doesn’t matter though because I felt suffocated and creeped out.   

Protecting dignity also requires addressing mental health. Most adults either suffer from or have to help a family member with mental health challenges. Be proactive about reducing any stigma that might exist in your company culture regarding mental health and provide your employees affordable avenues for help.

4.    Teach managers how to communicate. Should everyone manage a team? No. Not everyone is willing to develop themselves to inspire and lead. Many prefer adding value in other ways. So stop tooting only one career ladder that requires managing people. Once you find willing people managers, set clear expectations for them – are they in the role to perform tasks or to guide and develop others? Are they there to teach and assist or to monitor and reprimand? Give detailed depictions of the ideal manager – how they spend their day, how they interact and speak, what they achieve and how. Ensure those people managers have a high willingness to be great people leaders – to constantly assess themselves, tweak and learn. The best people managers can give timely improvement guidance that leaves the employee feeling engaged, motivated and cared for. The best people managers can talk about difficult issues, can rationalize decisions, can create a culture of transparency and trust.


Be courageous, plan and act. Learn, tweak and act again. It’s that simple! And for those of you who do these four things well already…Kudos to you!

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