Many words are powerful, but if we are not careful we can miss the extent of the power of our words. If you have kids then you know that after your kid learned the word “no” you would give anything for them to stop using it. Pick up your toys. No. Go potty. No. Eat your dinner. No. Is your name no? No. A two letter word that can drive a parent crazy, am i right? It’s also a two letter word that can drive our leaders at work crazy. It’s a disappointingly common mistake in HR.
Manager: Hey, can we change..
Manager: Can I…
Manager: What if we…
No shouldn’t be our go-to for a response. No shouldn’t even be on the horizon. When a manager comes in with a problem and a suggestion or solution we shouldn’t immediately fire back a “no” and hide behind some compliance effort. When we do that, especially when we consistently do that, we lose the trust and respect of the leaders in our organization. We become their last stop when they need something. We become the group they call to clean up a mess instead of the group they call to help them think through the process of executing a great plan from the beginning. What about when you were growing up and how you identified which parent was going to say no to something specific and which one wouldn’t- who did you ask? You obviously asked the one who wouldn’t say no (unless you were a Hutto kid, then you definitely knew better than to try that).
When we constantly say no we are viewed as something less than a business partner and something more like a hall monitor on a power trip. I don’t mean when we say “No, HR cannot plan that social event” I mean when we say “No, HR cannot change that policy” or “No, HR cannot support that benefit change” or “No, HR cannot help you fire that person” or just “No, we cannot do it that way.” When we constantly use the response “No” we are underestimating the power that it has on how our employees and leaders view us.
Think back to the last job you had that wasn’t HR. Did you have something that you viewed as an unnecessary hurdle in executing your position? Was corporate or HR to blame for that hurdle? Did you have a manager that you wished was better at managing people? What if that manager had gone to HR for some guidance and was left with a response of “no.” Does that knowledge change how you view that person? Does the fact that HR didn’t support your leadership make you more angry at the manager or at HR? Did you have questions about benefits that you didn’t understand? Did you have an HR team that was annoyed by your questions about your benefits? Do you feel like you were recruited by a recruiter who was knowledgeable about the company or someone that just told you what they needed to tell you to get you to accept a position with them? Did you have problems with HR before you were HR?
Everyday that we are faced with problems to solve we should stop and ask ourselves simple questions, such as:
- If I were the employee, how I would I feel about this?
- or If I were the manager, what kind of support would I expect?
- How would this keep me from doing my job well if I were in their shoes?
- How could I explain/train on this topic in a way that helped employees understand this better?
- How does this impact our organizations business?
- Is there a solid business reason for doing it this way?
- Is this helpful to our goal or harmful to it?
- If I were coming to HR for help/insight/etc. would I be happy with the solution I’m about to provide?
This shouldn’t be confused with people pleasing, because that’s just as dangerous as always saying no. What it should do is make you think about how you are behaving in a way that may have a negative impact on your department’s image and what you can do to fix that. When you do use the answer no, can you defend it with a business reason that makes sense?