Nothing But the HR Truth

A couple of years back, I was tasked with providing a tour of New York City’s court system to a former prosecutor from the People’s Republic of China. As we watched one handcuffed defendant come before the bench on charges of armed robbery, my guest and his translator became increasingly engrossed in conversation. After some fevered whispering, the translator turned to me.

“He would like to know,” she said, with a nod to the visiting dignitary, “why this is taking so long.”

I explained that we were watching an arraignment, at which the suspect is formally charged. This prompted another exchange. The translator turned again and asked what would happen next.

I explained that, barring a plea bargain, the sequence might well include an evidentiary hearing, followed by a preliminary hearing, and (unless the defendant felt that some arcane point of law were on his side and opted for a bench trial) the convening of a jury.
“But don’t worry,” I added, “he has a right to counsel and a Constitutional right to a speedy trial, and in New York that means that the prosecution must bring the case within six months or the defendant can be set free by the judge.”

Another translation: “He says he can’t believe that you will take a half a year to convict this man!”

To which, of course, I responded that he might well not be convicted at all. “Don’t your defendants have the right to counsel and a presumption of innocence?” I asked.

“Well, yes, we have something like that,” came the interpretation, “but defendants don’t know that they have that unless they ask. And prosecutors don’t tell them if they don’t.”

I swallowed my disdain, but allowed myself a wan reply: “I’m not sure that’s sustainable.”
To which, to my surprise, my guest retorted: “I think you’re right.”

Some of you might be fretting that this is going to shift into a screed about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that effectively shifts the burden of the Miranda warning to suspects, who now must actively declare a desire to remain silent, rather than simply keeping mute. Not to worry. Nor will this descend into a dorm-room disquisition on trees falling in un-peopled forests. You’re safe there, too.

No, the subject here is more practical than that: transparency. A recent survey of business leaders and workforce experts by WFD Consulting found that 87 percent reported an increase in employee workloads and 80 percent indicated a measurable increase in employee stress. Okay, massive economic turmoil will tend to have that effect. But the major interlocking contributors that worsen the situation? “Poor communication and coordination among different functions.”

Leftist Norwegian leader Torstein Dahle made a compellingly centrist critique of our times when he observed that, “Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism might collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.”

The practical application here? You might know how your workforce is performing—where it’s thriving, where it’s vulnerable, who is excelling, who is hurting—but if you don’t measure it and manage it, and if you don’t share that information with those whom it affects—what good is the knowledge? (Okay, there’s your tree falling in the forest with nobody there.)

Business lines might collapse if they do not allow the market to tell the HR truth.
This truth applies to how business conveys its decisions about the emergent rules of healthcare reform. It applies to the lessons of a recent Towers Watson survey that revealed the direct connection between clarity that engages employees and a bottom line fattened by better worker retention. And, at the truly tactical level, it applies to the findings of TPI’s latest research, which found a jaw-dropping lack of structure aligning communication of shared services for workers with their businesses’ strategic objectives.

So HR leaders would do well to ask two questions: First, what is our system providing our workers? But equally important, do our workers know what is being provided?
Like those Chinese defendants (or BP, for that matter), what we don’t know can hurt us. As the over-quoted but still sage Warren Buffet famously says, “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

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