Who do you serve?

Not long ago I worked with a client – I'm always vague so as not to breach confidentiality – and I was immeresed in old school HR I thought we'd left behind.

Now, before I use this group as a good example of a bad example, let me remind the gentle reader I am not an HR-basher. I am an HR proponent often citing the reasons why we matter and the value add we deliver.

But to be a proponent one must also be honest, especially with one's own tribe.

So let me repeat my first question: who do you serve?

You see, in the instance referenced above I was doing some work in back of the house: comp, HRIS, benefits – the old-line portion of HR. While many firms have outsourced this (rightly so in my opinion) some still do this on their own as in the example cited.

But I'm not sure why.

In the short time I worked with this unnamed group I heard many statements and pronouncements like this:

  • Why do they do it like that? They know I want it the other way
  • I don't understand why they keep changing. I wish they'd leave me alone
  • Don't worry if they make a mistake; just reject it and send it back
  • They never get things right so don't worry if you do

All of these remarks, and many more of the same flavor, were directed at one group: their internal customer.

Now, before you gloat too much about how advanced your firm is, ask yourself if you really know. In this case all of the people I'd met and interacted with one on one were nice and actually cared about their clients.

Yet once the workday started the age old battle between us and them erupted. Before the second cup of coffee the war was full on: their customers couldn't do anything right.

So you might want to test the truth behind your iron curtain and see if the well-meaning much-maligned service team of yours has internalized a victim mentality and starts blaming – or worse, pitying – their clients.

Much of my career has been front-of-the-house, business-unit-based, hands-on HR. I've been fortunate to see what my clients contend with day in and day out and like many of my peers it's given me an appreciation not only of the challenges my clients face but also how I can add service and support them. In short, how to make a difference.

So this exposure can help change our perspective and tone.

Perhaps a solution is get your back of the house, your service people, to periodically revisit the front lines and see what's going on. Maybe your management needs to wake up and smell the coffee and stop the negative talk. Maybe you need an OD intervention to get your culture aligned and back on track.

Whatever your solution set is, let me close with one final thought. Service groups that display contempt for those they serve soon find themselves victims of that same ennui. You can't serve if you don't believe in service.

And if you can't serve, you can't work here.


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