Have you heard of Pontius Pilate? Two thousand years ago he was the Roman governor in Jerusalem who handed Jesus Christ over for crucifixion. It was said that in frustration with the local elders Pilate literally washed his hands of the prisoner dispute, telling Christ's accusers that it was their problem, not his.
His action, or inaction in terms of judgment generated a common phrase that has stuck with me over the course of my career, "pulling a Pontius Pilate" - words usually accompanied by a gesture of washing the hands. It's like saying, "I'm done with this."
Fast forward to modern times and I still see that gesture used today, if not always the phrase, by managers who want to get something behind them. They "wash their hands" of whatever it is that's bothering them and walk away. Or they want to.
The urge to walk away
In Human Resources, when introducing a new program, policy / procedure or simply a new initiative of some sort, there can be a tendency to roll it out with a fanfare and then simply walk away. Done and dusted, as the Brits would say. Our work is complete. Let's go to lunch.
"Hey, I sent out the memo."
Oftentimes they feel this way because they don't wish to become bogged down with lingering administrative issues. That's not nearly as exciting as the development work. They don't see themselves as being responsible past the launch, of having to get their hands messy with questions and squabbles and unintended consequences. Ewwww! They also would prefer not to play the role of cop or gatekeeper to ensure that initiatives are properly communicated, implemented and given the time to take root.
"It's not our job to be the police." That's for somebody else.
But who exactly is that somebody else? Those who may not understand the new initiative? Those who prefer the status quo in the first place? Or those who have their own agenda to advance, whether in support of or in contrast to the new HR initiative?
Walking away is running away
In actuality walking away after a launch is a sure fire method of causing failure. You wouldn't drop a plant into a hole and walk away, would you? You wouldn't set your child onto their new bicycle, give a push and then turn away, would you? So why do you think that simply announcing a new HR initiative is the extent of your responsibilities? Truth be told though, many out there start washing their hands immediately after the first memo.
But it doesn't work that way. It shouldn't work that way. Not if the intent is to successfully implement something.
You can't simply introduce a new program with a few memos and a deck of slides and then walk away. It takes time. Time for those affected to absorb and understand the changes. Time for questions to be raised, and possible adjustment to be made. Time for mistakes to be made and corrected. Time for managers and employees alike to become accustomed to the new way of doing things.
Time for what was new to become what is normal.
Finish the job
Human Resources needs to provide leadership during that time, remaining the focal point in the thick of things, leading the way. Their role would be to nurture the introduction phase, smoothing out the road ahead, eliminating whatever bumps and ruts are discovered along the way.
It's only by taking on that continuing responsibility, by seeing the implementation of what they've introduced through to a successful conclusion, can HR ensure that their new program, policy or procedure is carefully nurtured until it can stand alone. Until it is the new normal.
Short of that is whistling in the wind, like lighting a candle in the window and hoping that things go well.
When HR walks away, when they wash their hands of something too soon, they've left their responsibility half complete. And half complete is no one's success story.
Do the job. The whole job.
Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations. He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant. Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation. He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a clowder of cats.
Creative Commons image, "I Give Up," by Marti Swart