7 Steps to Fixing A Broken HR Department

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May 18, 2016

I had a friend start a new HR leadership position recently. When I spoke to her the other day, she talked about how the department she has inherited is completely broken. Her first question to me was, “How do I turn this thing around?”

We all have asked ourselves this question, haven’t we?

Often, you get your first shot at leadership because something is broken and a change needs to be made. Rarely, as a first leadership position, do you walk into Disneyland! Oh, look, everything is perfect, all the processes are great, all the people are hardworking and get along, the budget has more money than I know what to do with!

It’s just not reality. If the department had all that, they wouldn’t be hiring you!

I gave her my steps to turning around a broken department, from my experience of turning around broken departments!

Step 1 – Don’t start by thinking you’re going to change the culture immediately.

The culture is bigger than you. The only way you could truly change the culture is to go in day one, fire every single person, and implant your own new team. Culture will always win.

Step 2 – Look for low hanging fruit and pain points.

Anytime you walk into a broken environment there are always simple little things you can do and something you can change that will be big wins. Do those first. This will buy you time to do some of the bigger things you need to do, and at least you’ll be starting with positive energy.

Step 3 – Fire bad people fast.

I don’t care that they’re the only one who knows how to make changes in the system. If they’re bad, fire them. Again, the organization will thank you. And if you’re truly broken, being broken a little longer won’t matter, and now you’ll have an excuse.

Step 4 – Hire people who are loyal to you, first, the organization second.

Broken departments eat up and spit out more HR leaders than you can imagine. It would be the first question I would ask when interviewing – “so, how many leaders were here before me? Oh, five in five years, thanks, I’ll pass.” If you’re going to put up a good fight, you need people who will die by your side.

Step 5 – Have a plan. Gain executive buy-in of that plan early.

Continue to update executives on the plan. It won’t be fixed overnight, but managing up on the progress you’re making will ensure success over the long run.

Step 6 – Build extensive relationships with your peer group in other functions as quickly as possible.

To fix awful, you need friends. Friends in IT, marketing, finance, operations, etc. You need those champions on your side, supporting your change. I don’t need everyone in my department to like me, I do need my other functional peer group to like and respect me if I’m going to turn this puppy around.

Step 7 – Stop saying HR is broken, or bad, or you’re fixing it.

Start using language that we’re building best-in-case processes, world-class technology, market-leading functions, award-winning talent, etc. The organization needs to change the language of what HR is, to make it what it can be.

It’s the hardest, most challenging, thing you’ll ever do is turn around a broken department, but it will also be the most rewarding and best thing that ever happened to your career!

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