The daily list of To Dos in the midst of major HR transformations, technology implementations, strategic vision definition, and budget planning can sometimes be overwhelming. We tend to be measured by what and how much we do. More often than not, we are fixated on completing the status report to say, “Yes, I’ve done all these things.”  After participating in hundreds of these types of projects over the years and delivering thousands of reports, charts, graphs, etc., I can tell you that one of the best lessons I ever learned was to change the typical project path and ask “Why?” on a consistent basis.

I know, I know… it’s difficult to be the person perceived as holding up the momentum of the group.  No one wants to be the stick in the spokes of a wheel that is rapidly heading down the tracks toward Checking-Things-Off-The-Listville. There is, indeed, an art to the practice of asking “Why?” and uncovering the unspoken assumptions that each person holds about the how best to accomplish the project goals.

Assumptions are judgments we hold as being true without evidence or validation. Applying assumptions enables efficiency and reinforces authority. Those tend to be well regarded skills in a deadline-driven project environment. However, the marketplace routinely demonstrates that innovation often leads to greater efficiency and increased value. How many leaders would not at least be open to the idea of effectively challenging assumptions in order to either validate that the assumptions are true or creating a new solution that improves the overall result?

Human Resources project teams are routinely expected to enable significant change, reduce costs, produce inventive programs and policies, and increase value to the business while maintaining the demands of the day-to-day business of HR. Time and resource constraints tend to discourage a team’s willingness to challenge the processes and experiences that have been successful in the past. How much will it cost, though, to have to redesign a technology system or a company-wide process when the business leaders don’t see the value that HR enables?

Process design is an area that is tailor made for challenging assumptions and asking the “Why?” questions.

  • Why do we do manage the process in this way?
  • Why will it be most effective to follow this path in the future?
  • Why do our customers value this service?
  • Why do we need three levels of approval?
  •  Why do we have exceptions to the process?

All organizations have to constantly be asking questions in order to survive today’s rapidly changing business environment. Answers to these questions will identify the root causes of the behaviors of HR, of your customers, and of your own team members. Asking these questions may make some people uncomfortable but how uncomfortable will the team members be when they have to explain why the results—however well intended— fall short of your customer’s expectations? The willingness to challenge your assumptions about yourself, the culture, and people is a true leadership skill. 

Submitted by:

Julianne Murray, Senior Consultant - KnowledgeSource, Inc.


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