Stallone-Obaraemi Samuel: The Fine Balance between a Business Partner and a Human Partner – The HR Choice
The expressions “Strategic Business Partner, metrics, analytics, round table, etc” have taken over the HR world. HR has been threatened with extinction if the aforementioned expressions are not brought to life. Yes, HR must metamorphose to be seen more as a profit rather than a cost centre in a numeric and monetary sense, the emphasis seems to imply. Consequently, practitioners are immersed in a lot of activities to develop and upgrade their skills in this light. Many practitioners have started aiming for CEO positions and thinking beyond the box limitation they once lived in. While all of that frenzy is on-going, is there the likelihood that HR professionals may forget the main characteristic that makes them the best CEOs, when they attain that height, as adjudged by corporate history? That characteristic is the “human touch and feel”
We live in probably the most ruthlessly dynamic and turbulent times in human history. The political, social and economic spheres are all affected. In the business world, companies are letting employees off and giving same all the fancy names one can imagine. Right-sizing, down-sizing, restructuring etc. They all boil down to one thing – getting some people fired so that the organisation can remain afloat. In the career life of every employee, there are the entry and exit points, sometimes, such decisions are inevitable. The most important point is the exit point.
Watchers have observed that HR practitioners might just be inadvertently tilting towards being more business-centric while losing the animate touch that makes them special. You hear expressions like “‘That’s the business’ decision, and there is nothing I can do’ ‘I wish I could help, but my hands I tied’, ‘I’m sorry this is the policy’ etc”. You hear and breathe constraint, contract, compliance and control.
I do believe that there should be a fine balance between being a business partner and being a human partner. While we do not advocate that rules and policies be blatantly broken and disregarded, as they are meant to protect the business and instil decorum, there is need for reasonableness. We are not androids. Let me give you some examples of reasonableness.
Consider the example of how God dealt with the righteous man Lot. When God determined that he would destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he gave Lot clear direction to flee to the mountains. For some reason, though, Lot pleaded for permission to flee to another location. Just think—Lot actually asked the Almighty to change His instructions! (Gen. 19:17-20) It might be easy for someone to judge Lot as being weak or disobedient. After all, God surely could have kept Lot alive anywhere, so Lot’s fears really had no basis. Nevertheless, they were still his fears—Lot felt what he felt, and God yielded accordingly. He allowed Lot to flee to a city that He had intended to destroy. (Gen. 19:21, 22) Clearly, God is neither stern nor rigid. He is yielding and reasonable.
Sometimes, employee requests might sound anti-policy at first sight. Those requests may reflect his fears and emotions. As unrealistic and foolish as they may seem and sound at first, they exist. They are real to him or her. It may be unwise for HR managers to outrightly dismiss them without taking an in-depth look and possibly find an angle of reasonableness.
On his way to cure and eventually resurrect Jairus’ daughter, a woman with a blood flow health challenge touched Jesus Christ and got healed. (Luke 8:40–56). By coming out and mingling with others, she evidently broke some laws. But she was desperate. Jesus looked beyond the surface and did not chastise her, but commended her faith.
In the 1960s when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Led the human rights movement, there were times when they stopped. Dr. King was reasonable in his leadership. He knew when to halt, and to reconsider the circumstances.
HR business partners must be alive to question business decisions when they appear to be trampling on the dignity of employees. This is especially true in the light of the various weaknesses inherent in our labour laws in Nigeria, that give so much discretion to employers and very little protection to employees, unlike our francophone counterparts.
This is also another call for Human Resource leaders to vehemently call for the amendment of the Nigerian Labour Act. It is currently obsolete regarding trending employment issues. The weak and less-opportune are not adequately protected as everyone is left to negotiate for him/herself. The minimum standards are a far cry from what it should be. The blur and lack of clarity in many sections of the law is disturbing. The body of Human Resource practitioners led by the Chartered Institute of Practitioners must take an active role to see to it that the labour laws especially as it applies to the private sector, provides adequate protection for employees in unequivocal terms.
Several platforms to enlighten employees should be created to heighten employee education in the country. That way, the flagrant disrespect and disregard for Nigerian labour laws as exhibited by some local and multinational companies, will be curbed.
In conclusion, while HR practitioners appreciate the need to understand the business of the organisations they serve by being business partners in the strategic sense, they should balance that need, by also partnering with the talents they worked so hard to employ. Where the law or policy is not so clear about certain things, before the hard line is taken, let them wear the human cap, and let its strength influence their advice to management, to ensure that while the business does not experience avoidable loss, any hardship on the employee is mitigated to the barest minimum. No doubt, it is not always going to be easy and plain, but we can be reasonable.
Let me add that HR leaders must strive to connect first, then lead. They should not be deceived into thinking that their judgement is always right, and their opinion about others is always correct. When they recognise that they can make mistakes, big time, they become more compassionate when dealing with others. They become more graceful when they help their CEOs and their businesses to treat employees with dignity, without hypocrisy. Be careful, you just might be on the other side someday!
Stallone-Obaraemi Samuel is an executive coach, a corporate learning and development consultant and keynote speaker. He currently serves as the lead consultant and CEO at DellonVille Global Associates and can be contacted via email.