Cultivating Dream Teams of Confident Decision-Makers: An Exercise in Trust

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There’s no secret agenda: in an ever-changing economy, we all want to scale up and improve capabilities, and promote joint accountability, across our organizations. We need ourselves, our own HR teams, leaders, and employees to glide our companies through global disruptions and beyond, but time and again we see confidence slip away, and analysis paralysis take over in the face of transition. Why does this keep happening, and why does it seem to grow more prevalent? There isn’t an easy or a one-size-fits-all answer to this, but we can dive into two common causes that we can swiftly and positively impact.

First, we have a web of pooled knowledge at our fingertips. Our laptops, tablets, and phones bring endless answers to our questions at any moment. When faced with too many options and a lack of hands-on experience, many fear they’ll never know which solution is the “right” one for their situation, and they tend to lock up or slip back into the status quo.  

Next, we have companies that wobble at tipping points with policies and processes that haven’t caught up with the modern workforce and/or their rapid growth. Established companies also tend to be ripe with lingering, inherent “right” and “wrong” ways to handle different scenarios. Existing leaders who are too engrossed in the culture sometimes can’t see the need or path for change, and new leaders and employees are focused on learning the ropes or trying to climb the ladder. It’s easier and more palatable to put out the fires than to push the norms, so again, long-term problem-solving takes a back seat. 

Now, why is this particularly relevant to the HR field? To start, whether our employees freeze and reach out to us for proactive guidance or for reactive course correction, HR remains in the crosshairs of cultural change and strategic decision-making. This fly-by-the-seat approach is not sustainable, and we all know this. But as HR, how can we be our peers’ trusted advisors, instead of their band-aids and policy pushers after the problems have already emerged? How can we move away from “right” and “wrong,” to foster a company of people who are comfortable with change, on-the-spot decisions, and scale without our guidance every step of the way? It’s a long journey, but we can start by implementing 3 practices. Hint: each of them are related to trust!

  • When someone approaches you for advice, ask them how they think they should handle the situation before you offer your input. This is crucial because when a person comes to us to guide them through a simple question or a crisis, our urge to manage kicks in. More often than not, we want to listen to the scenario, and share our view on how they can address it effectively. It can be instantly gratifying and eliminate stress for both parties, especially when it comes to the policy or process-related scenarios we face in HR each day, where methods are important. The problem with this quick fix is that our views were formed over time and are based on our experiences, and our experiences – both the great and the painful – are what helped us grow. If we tell a leader, manager, or otherwise how we’d handle their plight, we not only become their crutch, but we hinder them from thinking through the challenge themselves. To help them build confidence and capabilities moving forward, be their trusted advisor and allow them to start to form that same trust within themselves: hear them out, support their thought process, and then coach them along as needed so they arrive at an appropriate solution on their own. 
  • Encourage people to accomplish mutual goals as they see fit. From collaborating with another team to revamp an operational process, or partnering with your company’s leaders on a crucial employee program, it’s tempting to micromanage how and when ideas we’re passionate about are met. It can feel like the success of the team and initiative reflect on us and our department: why would we just let it go and hope for the best? Well, there are actually two good reasons to do just that: 1) To build trust in and out of HR. Trust is a give and take, and if we show another person or their team that we trust their expertise to accomplish what they set out to do, it’ll boost their confidence and esteem for us, as well. They’ll return that trust to us in this exercise and, likely, going forward; and 2) To encourage creativity and diverse perspectives throughout our organizations. Periods of ambiguity paired with a sense of mutual purpose across teams are great times to promote innovative and thoughtful solutions to company challenges. So next time, when the situation permits, why not set the goals together and let everyone soar toward the finish line as they want? More often than not, we’ll be pleasantly surprised by some new ideas along the way! & how great does it feel to celebrate a success everyone has a stake in?
  • Embrace failures as a chance to improve. Some of us follow the above tips more often than not! We stay optimistic, we trust our leaders and team members, and we wait for fresh ideas, collaborative efforts, and trust to come right back to us in abundance! & then we are flicked in the face by the harsh reality that will never leave us: the “H” in “HR!” Our interactions humbly remind us we are all just human beings, working with other human beings.  We all make mistakes and we all misstep for too many reasons to count, excuse, or deny in one swoop. When we’re let down in a big or small way, especially with our livelihoods or professional brand on the line, it’s easy to want to finger point, send a scathing email, remove initiatives from someone’s plate, the list goes on. Not only is this not recommended from a professionalism and relationship-building standpoint, but it will also do no good for any of us long-term. Dwelling on the failures of someone else or ourselves once the moment has passed only has toxic effects. It stifles innovation, lowers individual and group confidence, and allows fear of future failures to permeate. Who feels encouraged to critically think or ideate when they are scared of repercussions to come? Nobody. They will seek “approved” answers from other people and departments to avoid accountability, and we, our people, and our companies will suffer as we slip back into “the way we’ve always done it.” Instead of sinking too deep in the face of our next failure, let’s seek to elevate! Elevate others, ourselves, and the situation. Proactively set aside time to focus on what we learned, where we went wrong, and how we can all work together to avoid this happening again moving forward. & then do just that: move forward together.

If none of the above resonated with you, that’s OK! If you’d like, just remember this key takeaway and address it however you want: the more we model trust in others, the more they learn to trust themselves, their decisions, and eventually, their peers. It enables trust to flow throughout an entire organization. (Sound absurd? Picture a company with a distrustful culture. How do you think they got there? Why can’t the opposite work, too?) Putting the effort into building a climate of trust will allow for risk-taking and innovation, and will cultivate stronger decision-making skills and collaborative efforts across all teams and departments. It takes time, but it will do more good than harm, and really, we have nothing to lose! 

Will these strategies solve all of our workforce challenges in one get-go? Of course not. Can they help us start to chip away at it, step-by-step, if we all actively do our part to model what we want to see? I’m a firm believer!

What about you? I’d love to hear each of your ideas, too. How do you increase the confidence in your peers and collaborative partners who rely on you? What has worked? What hasn’t? Share away, #HRTribe! & Happy Sunday, in the meantime!

Strive Toward Humane HR: One Interaction at a Time

As voracious dreamers, doers, and visionaries, many of us started our HR journeys inspired to make a positive, lifelong impact on our people and organizations. Among our teams, we typically have the drive, emotional intelligence, and field-based backgrounds to guide strategies into 2025 and beyond. Yet, somewhere between the intent and reality, we stall.

All too often, I hear employees say they don’t call HR unless they want to be told “No.” That our cumbersome processes decrease morale faster than our catered lunches and team-building workshops can repair it. That our policies are outdated, and when they ask for data to support why we haven’t increased our own resources or technology in half a decade or more, nobody can find it. That, even when they understand an integral part of our role is to protect our organizations, our slow reaction times and vague, CYA responses to their genuine questions insult some of our most engaged people.

Why is the closure of this gap so low on the priority totem pole? How could our entire functional mission – to uphold the integrity of our companies and guide each one of our employees toward their peak potential – conflict so drastically with the perception on the ground? We set out to be wings, and we became concrete boots. & the reasons we tell ourselves for settling, are only stale excuses.

First, we need to own that we’re part of the challenge. Bam, done, it is what it is. Now that we’ve shone a light on the chasm, it’s time to fire up our creativity and become part of the solution. So, what do we do first? Shake a money tree, update our own technology, craft robust engagement programs, immediately give everyone the comp the market demands, and hire only unicorns who are both skilled and comfortable with conflict? Sounds great 🙂

Ok, fine, we can’t be that quick to pivot. But bear with me for a second, because the great news is that turning it all around really IS easy if we stay true to our vision. All we have to do is get back to basics! It looks a little like this:

  • When someone comes to you with a genuine request, show authentic interest and care in how you approach the solution. Yes, some policies are there for a reason, and at times they truly should be followed. But imagine if an exception is genuinely warranted: they’ll feel taken care of and loyal. & if not, think of the difference you’ll make if you just hear them out, transparently outline what you can and can’t do, and why. Turn the wall of “No” into a dialogue, and allow them feel like a human being, instead of an employee
  • If a team member isn’t doing their best, don’t reach for the write-up. Seek first to understand what’s going on: do they need support? Will a professional development intervention help? Are there goals you can set and work toward together to pull them off of their plateau? Let them be a part of a career conversation, not a byproduct of decisions made behind closed doors
  • No matter the circumstances, keep it professional and respectful. Your job is a noun, an inanimate concept. Your employees are separate entities from your being. They cannot negatively impact you unless you let yourself waver off course from your true purpose: to support. If you’re stressed, it is because of how you’re dealing with whatever is on your plate: not because another noun truly has jurisdiction over you. Don’t let your mood creep into your responses!

Easier said than done? & is there more to it than this? Always! But it’s a start!

What about you? Have you settled into complacency (it beckons us all!)? Are you worried about the cons of this approach? How are you currently working toward your higher vision? Please feel free to leave your comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts, too!

Sam