I recently watched one of those Austin Powers movies of the late nineties and was struck again by one of Powers’ recurring lines: “Oh behave!” he would insist with apparent earnestness. The expression always makes me laugh no matter how many times I hear it because Powers doesn’t mean what he says. Instead, he means something like: “Control yourself for a moment until I get a chance to misbehave too.”
For Powers the connection between what he does (his behaviour) and who he is (his character) is a connection he recognises, but it’s not one he is keen to live up to.
That connection was an idea that was alive in the minds of our HR colleagues whose inputs through the recent ‘What is good HR?’ survey were largely responsible for the new AHRI Model of Excellence.
The survey respondents were asked to state behaviours that they believe are a necessary part of being an HR professional.
The character traits strongly endorsed include being credible, being courageous, being solutions driven, being future oriented, being a critical and enquiring thinker, being collaborative, and being a person who understands and cares. While these don’t cover all the traits listed, you can see that people who are all those things are not just well-rounded individuals but are also likely to be leaders among their peers.
You might conclude therefore that we are aiming too high in setting the bar at a level commensurate with what it means to be a professional person who is simply engaged in practising HR in a business context.
Yes, the bar is set high but I would contend that it needs to be set high.
In saying that, not all occupations require the same behaviours from their practitioners. Finance managers, for example, aren’t really required to demonstrate that they are being collaborative. But at times they are required to be courageous. If asked to engage in financial practices that are irregular or unlawful, they need to be able to speak to power. That may or may not take skill, but it certainly takes spine.
Many professionals in business deal with inanimate assets: operations managers, IT managers and building managers tend to deal with fixed assets that function largely in accordance with the laws of physics.
HR managers, by contrast, deal with human beings who are known to act occasionally in the most unpredictable ways and who cannot finally be controlled or owned. They need to be lead rather than simply managed, and they therefore need to respect the people who are doing the leading.
Mindful of that background, behaviours become a critical professional factor in the lives of HR managers, especially when HR is doing what it often does and setting behavioural standards for others. It doesn’t mean HR practitioners are required to be saints. That would be silly. But it does mean that they need to be people of integrity who, within reason, behave in private as they do in public. As a friend said to me recently, when we make a choice as car drivers to speed or not to speed, that decision should not be made simply in accordance with whether a speed camera is in sight.
Please take the trouble to have a look at the Model of Excellence and have your say below.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Oh behave!’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.