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HR in the Moment

Sometimes HR designs things, like an onboarding program. Sometimes HR does regular work such as running a recruiting process. But sometimes what HR does is so small and in the moment that it would never appear on a performance appraisal. I’ve come to believe those “in the moment” actions are some of the most important contributions an HR leader can make.

What HR brings to any situation is an appreciation for human dynamics. HR is by no means alone in this appreciation, however, whereas finance leaders will be thinking about dollars, marketing leaders will be thinking about the customer, and the CEO will be thinking about a thousand different things, HR has the know-how, predilection, and responsibility to tune into the human side. That’s why HR can bring value, at the moment, to a wide variety of situations.


A few examples

One example I saw recently was an HR leader helping calm nerves and reduce conflict among the top team in a stressful situation. The HR leader recognized that the top team was suffering from stress and all it took was a few calm reminders that they were all in it together. HR also reminded the group of the British concept of cabinet solidarity whereby you could argue as strongly as you like behind closed doors but once the leadership team had come to a decision, each leader would publicly support it. These quiet comments helped the team work together through a difficult time.

Another simple but effective action I’ve seen is connecting two people. For example, a department head is about to launch a change initiative and the HR leader says, “You’d better talk to Alisha before you start because she’s been through something similar and can help you head off problems with the newer employees.

These examples may seem too simple to merit attention, however, they have an outsized impact.

Tuning into the people side is different from advocacy

Being alert to crucial people dynamics is not the same as advocating for the importance of employees. There will be times when people must be let go. HR’s role is not to say the business should keep them or give them extraordinary severance or engage grief counsellors; HR’s role is simply to alert the other leaders that how layoffs are handled will have an impact on the remaining employees and the company’s reputation. With that “people lens” in mind, leaders are less likely to make a misstep.

HR’s role is to help leaders achieve the organization’s goals, not using a difficult moment to advocate for their own goals.

The takeaway

The takeaway is for HR leaders to avoid undervaluing their role in managing the human dynamics in critical moments with a wise word or two. It’s subtle and it won’t appear on a list of this year’s goals, but maybe it should. It may also be useful to gently point out to some non-HR leaders, that you are intentionally working on the human dynamics and that it has an important impact on effectiveness. It’s all part of appreciating the good things HR does for the organization in ways large and small.


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