Taking Risks, or Why HR Needs to Stop Acting Like Everyone’s Mom

You know what I really like about Sales departments in most organizations?

They try, or do, almost anything, once, to try and increase sales for your organization. They are willing to take chances, to tinker, to experiment, and the organization is fine with it. Hell, most organizations expect Sales to do stupid stuff every now and again.

Marketing is the same way. If there is a dumb idea out there, someone in Marketing is bound to come up with it and give it try. Why not? It might actually work.

Why is HR always about risk avoidance?

Operations? Same thing. When I was at Applebee’s, about once a year some Operations person would say “Hey, we should do Breakfast!” You mean America’s beer and burger place doing eggs and bacon? Sure, why not? Then after one week of trying a “Sunday Brunch” they’d say, “That’s dumb – let’s not do that.” But they tried it.

HR? Not so much.

Somehow, HR became our organization’s Mom. I’m not sure how your Mom is, but most Moms do whatever they can to keep their kids out of risk. I called this “Bubble Boy” when my boys were little and my wife would do everything possible to keep them out of harm’s way. I’m sure, if it would have been possible, she would have found a way to put a bubble wrap around our boys to keep them safe.

That’s not necessarily bad, right? Ultimately, we want to keep our kids safe – out of harm’s way. That is the role of Mom.

HR is not Mom.

Learning to take calculated risks

That really is our (HR’s) major affliction. We are trying to be “Mom” when no one in our organization, including the C-suite, is asking us to be “Mom.”

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Most HR shops run like they are trying to eliminate 100 percent of the organization’s risk. The problem is, it’s not HR’s role to eliminate risk from the organization. HR can advise about risk – “Hey, you might not want to do that, it could get us into some hot water, but if you do, here’s how I can help” – but it shouldn’t be spending large amounts of time figuring out how to eliminate risk.

That’s why you have lawyers and legal counsel. Every company I know – even ones with 25 employees – have legal counsel. OK, maybe not on site, but they can make a call.

Think about it for a minute: no other part of your organization spends time trying to eliminate risk. Instead, they spend time trying to figure out what risks they should be taking to move the organization forward. Some of those risks won’t work. Some of those risks will work so well it will transform the organization.

We need them to take risks. Taking risks — calculated risks — is what drives innovation, drives increased revenues, and drives the long term health of our organizations. Risk avoidance is an ill HR can cure.

HR needs to take risks. Our organizations require this.

This originally appeared on the blog The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


5 Comments on “Taking Risks, or Why HR Needs to Stop Acting Like Everyone’s Mom

  1. This is a great post! We all love mom dearly, but our HR strategies shouldn’t be all about minimizing risk. After all the saying “no risk, no rewards” exists for a reason. If we’re so busy avoiding risk we might also be avoiding our company’s next great idea. Whether this means utilizing video interviews or diving into social media, new ideas are everywhere if we’re willing to risk taking a step outside our comfort zones.

  2. I’ll take this one step further and say that the HR mind-set has even hurt the economy.  Not only have they stifled the risk taking that is essential for innovation and growth, but they have put bureaucratic systems in place to “manage” people and their performance into a place of mind numbing conformity.  Since SECURITY has become workers number one priority concern in this economy… you can see how the system now has amplified the fear of stepping out, making waves, being a positive disruptor, and initiating ideas. 

    It’s logical that it has come to this. Think about who HR generally attracts.  “Gee, I’d like to apply my innovative big thinking passion and strength and work in the HR field”.  No way.  Now that a disproportionate amount of power has been given to HR because of layoffs and hiring freezes, you have some very small minded leaders crushing cultures and the ability to get out of this mess.

  3. Tucker is right.  While it is true that “most HR shops run like they are trying to eliminate 100 percent of the organization’s risk,” their toxic impact on the organization runs much deeper.  As a consultant with a passion for creating great workplaces, I have found most HR folks have their head in the sand.  They either believe everything is fine (it’s not) or are reluctant to explore ideas for improvement despite recognizing the need for them.  They have a “keep your eyes down and don’t make waves” attitude.  Perhaps their behavior reflects the overall negative tone of their organization.  I understand that.  But when is HR going to stand up and say, “We can contribute more here than benefits packages and vacation policies.  We can be idea generators, thought leaders, and progress makers.  Let us show you how valuable we can be.”  I’m just not seeing that paradigm shift.  Instead, HR will continue to be treated like a red-headed stepchild.  And it will have been totally earned.

    1. I think they don’t want the responsibility if/when things don’t work out positively, and another part of me believes that because they don’t get involved enough with the ‘ideas people’ they don’t believe the risk is worth taking.

      The thing is, HR will change slowly but surely, because here we are talking about the change that is needed. Even if we are not doing the work to make the change, the conversation is taking place.

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