Resolving the HR personality clash


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Do you experience misunderstandings or conflict when dealing with your internal clients? If so, a simple personality clash may be to blame.

When examining the personality traits of 5,000 people in financial services employers, we found that the 'typical' professional in the sector is a competitive, achievement-oriented, persuasive communicator who likes data, evidence, structure and detail. Not surprising, you might think. What's interesting is that these traits are very different from those of the typical HR practitioner, who is more consultative, more willing to allow others to take the lead and less likely to rigidly adhere to rules, processes and deadlines.

This means that, in financial services employers, an HR practitioner has a fundamentally different working style to a typical line manager. Confusion and disagreements can therefore occur when the two parties interact with each other because HR practitioners are essentially trying to be collaborative and supportive in a world which values being forceful and direct.

True, our study concentrated on the world of financial services but perhaps this is a wider problem that exists in other sectors too. If that's the case, then many HR practitioners are likely to be working outside of their 'comfort zone', for example by adhering to strict procedures rather than being more spontaneous, which would be their natural preference. It's no wonder that some practitioners claim that a lack of understanding exists internally about their role and about the expertise they bring to the business.

So, what can be done? Given the differences in working style, the only real option for HR practitioners who want to become more influential, and want to deal more effectively with internal stakeholders, is to change their role. They need to shift their focus - and develop their technical, interpersonal and professional skills - to become 'HR Entrepreneurs'.

An HR Entrepreneur is someone who line managers want to work with: a confident advisor and a trusted expert who can simplify HR processes and align with the business strategy, because they have a clear and up-to-date understanding of the talent management environment and the industry in which they work. They can provide a more articulate and confident HR influence - through their technical prowess, diplomacy and improved client management - which can bring greater objectivity and fairness to recruitment and talent management processes.

A change may also be needed in the way that HR practitioners are selected. Many organisations currently select practitioners based on the relevant experience gained in their sector. However, this over-emphasises the importance of domain knowledge and industry awareness, all of which can be taught. Recruiters can also make the mistake of trying 'clone' the organisation's existing HR practitioners but this will only compound the problem. What's really needed is an overhaul of the processes for selecting and developing HR practitioners.

The place to start is to articulate what 'good' looks like. That means understanding which personality traits are valuable for HR in the business. A validated competency framework should be created and used as a benchmark; psychometric assessments and clearly defined performance data should be used to identify appropriate candidates. Greater emphasis should be placed on the core abilities and aptitude of the individuals. Modular development interventions should then be used to develop the skills of an HR Entrepreneur, with a robust evaluation framework.

Development programmes designed to nurture and improve the skills of an HR Entrepreneur are now available. They could prove to be a lifeline. Ultimately, if HR is unable to reconcile its fundamental personality clash with the business, more organisations may look to resolve this problem themselves by completely outsourcing their HR operations.

Richard MacKinnon is head of learning and development solutions at development provider Talent Q

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