Solving the obvious

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I like to solve puzzles and work out problems. Sometimes (okay, more than I want to admit) I even tackle those that don’t belong to me…I want to be that resource, that person that comes up with the obvious solution to an issue that others are struggling with.

And I do this at home. Especially with my kids.

My first reaction when they tell me about a problem they have is to offer suggestions or, at the very least, try to give them direction in how they can find the problem. This of course is not the right thing to do. One, because I’m a parent and as such, pretty much know nothing. And two, because in reality, they aren’t telling me so that I will solve their problems – they just want someone to listen to them.

Zip it. Check.

Then there is the matter of playing referee. Parents of more than one child will recognize that it’s really not fun to listen to bickering. All. The. Time. My kids are four years apart and in all honesty it might as well be 400 years. We are talking different worlds…boy, girl, pre-teen, teen….Yeah, no shortage of witty banter in our household.

My son in particular is a less tolerant of his older sister. He takes great pleasure in pointing out all her flaws, quirks, and things that generally annoy him. It is not unusual to hear them arguing and that is where I generally join the fray. Diplomatically, of course.

One evening I was at a loss with what to say and just asked my son what would help him potentially get along with his sister more. His response, “When we are arguing – just let us be. Let us sort it out. It makes it worse when you step in”.

Ouch. That was the feel of the obvious slapping me across the face.

So simple, so obvious and yet it was someone else who made the suggestion. Someone who was a participant, someone who was much more involved in the situation and understood the dynamics at play. Me? I was an outside person who was just mildly irritated by the noise and so sure that I knew how things should be. After all, I am the parent.

And how often do we do this at work? We have managers that come to us to talk and we assume that we need to take on the challenge of resolving issues in their department. Or when we become aware of tensions between employees/managers and assume we know the best course of action, we jump in uninvited. After all, we are in HR.

HR’s role is not to sit in the ivory tower and dole out words of wisdom, nor are we meant to put on the striped shirt of a referee. We are there as a sounding board and resource so that everyone else can deal with their own issues. As a parent, I need and want my kids to be capable of dealing with stuff on their own…as HR, I should expect no less from the managers/employees I work with.

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6 thoughts on “Solving the obvious

  1. Management, or even work in general, is rewarded for activity. This is why employees at all levels are pressured to “do something.” How is wisdom for non-intervention rewarded? How is it attributable to the wise?

    HR feels the pressure to intervene, as if to justify its existence. I wear both HR and Line Management hats and the more I grow in this role, I see less and less need for HR to have structured interventions apart from enabling line managers to be better with people — which is a management job anyway.

    I realize that this raises more questions than it provides answers.

    • Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.
      I often wonder whether it’s HR trying to justify its existence or whether it’s the nature of those who find themselves in HR.

      I believe the wisdom comes from learning when you truly need to intervene and when to facilitate. Like many things that HR does, sometimes the value of this wisdom is not apparent at the time, but after the fact.

      • And that’s just it — this is a management problem, and part of how we humans view performance: we have a bias for the visible action (non-action leads to the perception that the non-actor is not necessary). We mistrust non-intervention, as we well, didn’t see anything.

        How does an employee take credit for a result by electing not to interfere? How do we structure performance management systems to catch this?

        It takes an attentive, active listener of a manager to see the employee — whether HR or otherwise, practice this wisdom — as it does lead to the desired results.

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