Mercy

The quality of mercy is not strain’d.

In one of William Shakespeare’s most elegant passages (that’s saying a lot folks) Portia reminds us – cross-dressed in the guise of Balthazar since women could not address the court – that the quality of mercy is twice-blessed, both by those that give, and those that receive.

Would that my HR peers read more Shakespeare.

In the last twenty years or more the shifts in our profession have been seismic. Some time ago we decided that “specialists” were too expensive so we started outsourcing the labor experts, the comp people, trainers, and then the HRIS folks had to go along with the OD geeks. We ran them off and saw that it was good. Or so we thought.

We stood naked before the business without our former offerings and the lowly title “generalist” just didn’t seen to have the right caché so we became business partners. HR business partners no less (in case anyone was confused). Some day someone is going to have explain to me what our HR business produced but that’s another blog for another day…

We were left largely following our clients around (who ironically enough did not have to label themselves ‘partners’) like the man with the shovel following the elephant cleaning up “issues” and “problems” in the workplace. In a sure sign of myopia we decided perpetual spring cleaning was the right solution and ran people off left and right sometimes for good reason but often in deference to the, gasp, partners who just didn’t want them around anymore.

There is nothing more irritating than the sanctimonious HR person preaching morality – except for the HR partner who forgets the quality of mercy.

People are not assets. They do not represent cost. They are not a burden. They are the singular difference in your business. SouthWest Airlines has taught us this lesson for decades. Go study. And yet, in many industries the answer is often throw the baby out with the bathwater. We don’t teach managers how to provide feedback because they’re too busy. We don’t hold leadership accountable because we don’t have P/L responsibility. We don’t intervene because we don’t want to create an upset.

My good friend Dave Smith used to say if you don’t come to work willing to be fired every day you’re not pushing the boundaries. Dave took care of his people and invested in them not just with training and education but with feedback and development. It wasn’t moralistic or pontificating. It was healthy.

Today the HR peers are often as fast as if not faster than their business partners to advocate removal, dismissal and demotion for people whose primary sin seems to be working in leaderless organizations. When did we become so cold and callous? When did it become okay to throw away resources assuming there was a limitless supply of more and that the damage to our culture was insignificant? When did we decide blathering on about “engagement” was acceptable even as our employees feared our phone number showing up on their handset or our email in their inbox?

We have forgotten the quality of mercy, the gift or renewal. We have forgotten what used to make us truly a value add and a plus to the entire organization. We have forgotten the human side of enterprise (thank you Douglas Macgregor).

The quality of mercy is twice blest – but must be deployed in the first place to be blessed at all.

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