One versus Many
The holy grail in HR seems to be to find a system or process that will impact every employee and affect change uniformly across the board. We strive to build performance management and talent management processes that can be applied at every level across the company. We look to find a way to get all managers to embrace the same best practices and become better leaders collectively. We spend money on consultants and technology that seem to hold the promise of this elusive holy grail. We want a clean, easy and elegant solution to our organization’s people problems.
The problem is that HR is about working with (and changing) people. People are complicated and messy. I, just like everyone else, still spend hours in pursuit of the elegant process-driven approach to broadly changing employee behaviors because these approaches have merit. But, the underlying truth of the work we do in HR is that each person is unique and they change on their own terms and at their own speed. And, much more importantly, change within an organization actually happens one person at a time.
This is where my thinking has taken a turn in recent years. It’s not a new thought, it just took me a while to arrive here. Given that our role in HR is to impact employee behavior company-wide while change in behavior happens one person at a time, we appear to have a dilemma. However, when you break down how organizations of people work, there are key players within the organization who have broad influence on how others in the organization choose to behave. In essence, if you get these people to change, the rest of the organization will follow. Here are a few of the key groups:
- Executive leaders. Clearly, the group with the most significant influence. But, we don’t always have access to these folks.
- Emerging leaders. Those who are either formally or informally identified as the future leaders of the organization. This group may be the most significant because not only do they have influence today, but their influence will grow in the future.
- Informal leaders. These are the employees who may not have formal titles, but who others look to for what to do in times of change or conflict.
- Connectors. Those employees who have relationships that are broad and stretch across divisions. These connectors have the ability to spread ideas quickly due to their network.
HR is a busy profession with lots of demands on our time. So, we aren’t going to have the luxury to literally work with each employee one on one in the organization. The big payoff is focusing efforts on the key groups of people outlined above and focus on strategies to influence them.. If you want to get everyone to do a particular thing a certain way, get these groups to do it and the rest will follow.
Change happens one person at a time. The key is to start with the right person.
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