HR Should Never Be Involved in a "Turf War"

In the Thursday October 7 Wall Street Journal in the Marketplace section there was an article entitled Coming of Age, written by Joe Mullich. (It appeared in a special advertizing section on Workforce Risk. Other than mentioning CVS several times I am not quite sure what it was advertising.) The article talked about the aging workforce population and how we (yes I am a Boomer) are not rushing to retire and the challenge this is presenting to companies. So Mullich talks about the approach that several companies (most notably CVS) are taking to manage the risks, responsibilities and opportunities presented with Baby Boomers staying in the workforce. I recommend the article it was a good read.

But that is not what I wanted to write about. Mullich made a comment that struck a chord with me. He was relating a story about a company that was instituting alot of changes to help their older workers perform their jobs better, such as new flooring, changes in tools, etc. to minimize injuries and illnesses for older workers. The program met internal resistance. And who was giving them the biggest pushback? THE HR DEPARTMENT! The initiative was started by the Risk Management Department and as Mullich says “… the Human Resources department didn’t like that its terrain was being encroached upon.” So much for having a strategic orientation. He concludes his statement with “This is an age-old dynamic.”

That is what struck the chord with me. I have seen those types of “turf battles” in a number of organizations. The training department operates independantly of HR and neither can stand the other. The Safety department is part of Risk Management or Manufacturing and HR feels infringed upon. You even get battles going between recruiting and HR. None of these turf battles are good for the organization. A true strategic HR professional would know that and would lead or coordinate a multi-functional effort to solve a problem or introduce a change initiative. In the example above, rather than HR having a pissy attitude about what Risk Management had done they should have jumped on the band wagon and realized that such an effort was probably important in other areas of the company and not just on the plant floor. They should have been asking the question “Where else can we apply the lessons learned?”

There is a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, in which two of the main characters are having a contest. Vinzzi, the kidnapper of the Princess Bride, and the Man-in-Black, who has come to rescue her are having a contest of wits. Vinzzini says “You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia

I offer similar advice to HR departments and professionals. Never get involved in a turf war in your company. You will not be well served, the company will not be well served and your standing in the company will be diminished. Coordinate, cooperate and work for the best interests of the company and the employees.

(BTW, The Princess Bride is a classic movie that should be watched by all. The rest of Vinzzi’s quote was ” but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line.” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha…” Right after which he dies. )

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