The View from HR

View from HR: More than one way to accomplish a business goal

CorrespondentFebruary 8, 2014 

Business and human resources leaders occasionally clash over the right way to reach a goal. Sometimes there is genuine disagreement. More often, though, one of these barriers prevents working together toward the best business result.

Which goal? Do all members of the team understand the business goal? Much like a 6-year-old’s soccer game, knowing “which goal” is key. A score for the other team is bad. A kick toward the proud family is almost as bad. Understanding the definition of success is necessary for true success.

A goal is more than, “We need more engineers” or “We have to cut health care costs” or “We are not attracting and keeping the right people.” Enough detail is required to show why this matters at this time to this company: “We need these types of engineers because our $100 million investment in research to create a product capable of replacing the old technology must meet new expectations of a market we do not understand.” Even better: “The customers are European; travel to their sites is required; we might do our first expat agreement, and these other decisions have not yet been made.”

This should sound very basic. Yes! It is about how things will be different when we succeed, not just a box to check next to a misunderstood or poorly communicated task.

What filter? Realize that well-intended managers bring different filters to every conversation. The CEO may see this engineering project as all about opportunity, profit or replacing a dying product. The finance leader could bring caution around expenses or capital needs. The HR leader might use a filter of the hard work needed to make this happen in a tight market. Each filter affects behaviors, which may hurt success unless they are recognized and reconciled.

Leaders and team members must keep each other away from their own mirrors and stay focused on the company telescope. Listening, challenging and reinforcing unclear components are helpful tools. Acting early and often to remove harmful filters improves the likelihood for success.

One way! A common source of conflict between HR and other business leaders is the “one way syndrome.” This is not unique to HR, by the way! There is only one way to do this because the law says so, or the profession says so, or the last seminar said so, or this has always worked, or this is what I know, or new ways scare me, or it sounds like too much work, or I might fail.

Never is a big word, but there is never one way to accomplish a business task or goal. Never. Ever. People who understand this and demonstrate productive flexibility are also able to accomplish important compliance and best practice needs. Those who tattoo a stop sign on their forehead will miss important business opportunities.

Understand the goal, reduce harmful filters and stay flexible in creating solutions. “Business first and HR second,” says a local HR leader. We are in this together.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 NC employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit

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