The title of this post may have made you cringe at the thought of being seen reading it while at work. If that’s true, that’s telling in and of itself. This rarely talked about (if so, almost never in a public setting) subject is typically the 300 lb. gorilla in most organizations. People just habitually work around it and keep on with business as usual. I thought I would take on a topic that can be a bit taboo. Hopefully folks from each camp will read this and begin to take steps to bridge these long running gaps.

If you haven’t read any of my other blog posts (shame on you) you know that I live and breathe leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. Until the chasms between HR and the C-Suite are closed, any attempt to improve these behavioral competencies will be marginal…and that’s if you’re lucky.

Typically something is attempted and when it doesn’t work as well as hoped one party is left pointing the proverbial blame finger at the other one (whether done publicly or not). There are plenty of excuses and reasons as to why one particular party is culpable for whatever shortcomings occurred to justify the usual blame game. Sound like an eerily familiar reality show you would rather not remember?

Let’s all inject a bit of leadership into how we choose to manage this. The profitability and ability to have a healthy culture is on the line. Employees aren’t stupid and this kind of tension and “us vs. them” undercurrent is painfully obvious. It affects how managers respond to both parties and in turn impacts how they manage. We have to lead from the front.

Here are some suggestions to close the divide:

  1. Admit that the problem exists. – Let the past be the past and simply admit that each of you have been guilty of casting blame on the other. It’s not a secret, it’s just not talked about. Get it in the open. Don’t try to fix it or fall into old arguments. Just admit it’s a problem that needs attention.
  2. Find common ground on issues. – There is plenty of overlap between what the C-Suite wants and what HR hopes to accomplish. The desired end results are what’s important. If you’re not breaking laws or ethics, don’t get so hung up on how it’s done. Try aligning suggestions with the organizational values. If you don’t have them written down somewhere, then that’s where you need to start.
  3. Understand the roles of each party. – HR is not only a payroll department. HR represents the ENTIRE organization and its development; not just supporting middle management for hiring/firing. The C-Suite is responsible for strategy and can benefit from including HR on the board. Understanding development options when discussing strategy is powerful. The C-Suite must make some tough choices to move the organization forward. HR understanding this and finding ways to support that is important. The theme of the day is communication.
  4. Make your efforts public. – If there is a rift between HR and the C-Suite, it is no real secret in your organization. Take this opportunity to begin to nurture a culture of collaboration and reconciliation. People WILL follow that lead. No one wants a tense and awkward workplace. This type of culture will reduce absenteeism, health risks and increase productivity.
  5. Include management in the process. – This divide has most likely affected them most. They probably felt like a slave to two masters and felt conflicted many times. Acknowledging you understand how difficult that must have been and congratulating them on working under such tough conditions will help open things for discussion. Ask them for their ideas and suggestions on how the relationship between HR and the C-Suite can make their jobs easier. Again, you are nurturing a culture of openness and collaboration. A great start!

It’s not rocket science, but it is so important to pay attention to this common rivalry. These 5 things aren’t the only thing you should do, but it’s a beginning to open the path for healthy communication and you’ll begin to discover the specific details that work best for your organization. If you need to hire a third party to come in and help facilitate the process, then do so. The return will be plenty worth that investment. So, put away the giant foam fingers and start a healthy dialogue!