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The Leading Edge-Building Trust Is a Good HR Habit

January 1, 1999
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Related Topics: The HR Profession, Your HR Career, Featured Article
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It’s hard to think of anyone else who has touched more business leaders’ lives over the last 20 years than Stephen R. Covey. His book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (Fireside, 1990), remains the business book with the longest reign on The New York Times’ business best-seller list. He has written a number of other best-selling books, and he’s also a lecturer, trainer, educator, and board member and co-founder of Franklin Covey Co., based in Provo, Utah.

Bob Rosner sat down recently with Dr. Covey in New York City to talk about the role of human resources in today’s corporation.

I once heard from an HR director who complained that he felt like he was stuck at the "children’s table" while the "adults"were in the next room making all the decisions. What are your thoughts on this?
Human resources [leaders] can definitely get to the adults’ table, but they have to learn how to speak the language of the adults. Most of them have become seduced by the politicized culture of their corporations. They become part of the "kiss up" approach; they sell out. And so they essentially reduce themselves to doing just the old personnel functions.

So what does a human resources leader do to avoid selling out?
First, be more true to professional principles than [to the] company. Integrity is the highest expression of loyalty to the company. Second, understand the perspective and context of the decision makers and their language. Focus on the bottom line, helping integrate all strategies of the company to accomplish it and show how the human resources strategy is the enabler of everything else. Third, don’t fall into the trap of just finding fault with the decision makers. Be a part of the process and be a good example. Finally, develop professional expertise and your own personal marketability. Then you’re not running scared of the boss’s opinions because that’s what causes people to "kiss up." There’s unbelievable opportunity for that kind of HR professional.

What’s the biggest challenge facing human resources?
Trust. Trust is decimated in most organizations, and this has an impact on all the different stakeholders.

Any thoughts on how to deal with this trust crisis?
You have both personal and organizational sources of distrust. Because you have the "institutionalized dependency" of people who have "kissed up" for a long period of time, you have to work at a deep level in order to restore trust in an organization. You have to work both systemically as well as with people’s character. So it’s a slow process, [this business of] building a trust culture. The top executives need to have an open session in which they share what’s happening and open the books as much as they’re allowed.

What else would you do if you were suddenly in charge of human resources at a company?
Establish an executive development program. I’d also serve as a catalyst to help organize the resources to make things happen. Don’t attempt to do it all, but call on people who have the necessary kind of expertise.

What’s the most important skill for an HR leader to have?
Being a first class salesperson, selling top managers that they need training. It’s a tough sale. My opinion is that human resources directors play one of the most critical roles in America today. Building high-trust cultures, getting an abundant spirit, getting synergy going, and really tapping into the human resources—that’s where the future lies.

Workforce, January 1999, vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 25-27.

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