This series takes a deeper look at what’s happening inside human resources and talent acquisition now. Over three parts, we’ll hold up the mirror for self-reflective HR and TA pros keen to open their eyes to the vulnerabilities impacting the work they do, from inside, outside, and the echo chamber surrounding the space.
Ego impacts the way we see the world around us. It influences how we perceive threats, challenges, and opportunities. And whether we realize it or not, ego clouds the judgment of HR and TA on a daily basis. This is not a criticism so much as an observation and a concept we explored in-depth in the first part of this series.
For this part, we’re going to carry the conversation forward and look at what happens when ego intervenes in HR and TA’s interactions with other audiences.
But first, Nietzsche:
“What damages a person most is to work, think, and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure—as a mere automaton of duty.”
Now, read that last part again. What did you see first – automaton or automation? We talk a lot about automating HR and TA, allowing these functions to free up time in their day, to improve speed and efficiency.
And while automation absolutely works to the benefit of HR and TA, it doesn’t solve for what’s happening internally – for being automatons.
By many accounts, HR and TA have spent the last year just trying to get the work done. They were told to do more with less and to do it now. Given that HR and TA partner with others, these pros have found themselves in precarious and unenviable positions.
That’s not necessarily new, so much as it’s gotten worse. The blame and shame game has led to increased finger-pointing – at hiring managers, at candidates, at leadership – and intensified feels of loneliness, inner turmoil, and defensiveness.
More often than not, this plays out as ego on the part of the HR and TA pros, tasked with justifying their actions and expertise at every turn. But defense mechanisms aren’t the answer, and sometimes the only way out is through.
You’ve probably heard about Clubhouse, the audio-only chat-based social network. HR and TA took to the app almost instantly, launching rooms and having conversations about everything from robots inside the ATS to griping about hiring managers. The nice part about these off-the-cuff discussions is that people from across the space have a platform to share their experiences.
Listen in, and you’ll realize that ego creeps in pretty quickly as some get louder and more aggressive and others jockey for the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise. Even in a room with like-minded professionals, HR and TA still feel the need to prove their worthiness.
There are four possible responses to most scenarios – fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Since flight might imply weakness and freeze could infer incompetence, the ego of HR and TA tend to go with either fight or fawn, depending on the threat at hand. But what typically comes across to the other party is insecurity.
Insecurity leads to discomfort, discomfort to miscommunication, miscommunication to misalignment, and the issues pile up from there. How do we help HR and TA persevere? We make it OK to be vulnerable. We make it OK to be human. And we start to mend fences with the other side.
We’ve talked about the challenge of silos and the “us versus them” mentality before but not in terms of finding a solution – and certainly not through the lens of ego. And at the end of the day, it’s these gaps that create the tension and cause ego-driven reactions.
Going back to Clubhouse for a moment, one thing we repeatedly hear in HR and TA rooms is that “we’re speaking different languages.” It’s the Tower of Babel, and it’s up to HR and TA to bridge the divide and make sure everyone is on the same team.
It’s nearly impossible to predict or control external variables, so much of this work needs to come from within HR and TA. That means learning to understand our egos and use them to our advantage, through active listening and effective communication.
Both require discipline, practice, and taking comfort in our own discomfort. Adam Grant recently shared, “Vulnerability is not the opposite of resilience. Vulnerability builds resilience. Projecting perfection protects your ego but shuts people out and stunts your growth. Revealing struggles shows humility and humanity, opening the door to new sources of support and strength.”
Rather than keep pointing fingers or making excuses, HR and TA need to drop the façade, within this space and out. There is nothing perfect about working with other humans, day in and day out. Humans are, by nature, flawed creatures. Pretending otherwise is how we become that “mere automaton of duty.”