Know When and How to Push Back

Push BackAs a consultant, I frequently hear from HR professionals struggling with decisions made by company leadership. One client was exasperated with a recent staffing decision made by a manager. The decision was perceived by the HR professional to be not only a bad decision but downright “unfair.” After additional fact-finding, it was clear this HR professional had some personal biases. Multiple emails had already been exchanged on this topic, which included input from a top-level executive. Most of us in the HR profession can relate to this situation.

As Human Resource professionals, we are all too often called upon for advice or support to implement decisions too late in the process. Often, we hear little or nothing about a decision until after it has been made. Sometimes, we are asked to help to roll out a process with which we are not fully aligned. A former HR director once told me that HR is, and always will be, the “mop-up crew”. Aside from being part of the mop-up crew, the following are some tools that have been derived from articles and many years of personal experience, to include in your personal toolkit to help manage these difficult situations:

  • Know when to push back. Ask yourself the following question: Is the situation illegal? Immoral? Unethical? If yes, then it may be appropriate to push back and even involve a higher-level manager. If not, ask, does this situation warrant “falling on one’s sword?”
  • Avoid engaging in a battle of emails. It will only set in motion a chain reaction that is virtually guaranteed to bring out the worst in everybody. Know when to cease with the email. It is too easy to find courage behind a keyboard. One rule of thumb to remember is if after two email exchanges you don’t believe your concerns have been heard, it’s time for a one-on-one meeting. Bottom line: there are some decisions warrant a face-to-face conversation.
  • Keep to the facts. Do not let your feelings or biases take control of what you believe is “unfair.” Remember that “fairness” is subjective. This is where having a good poker face comes in handy.
  • Provide options. People don’t like to be told what they cannot do. Instead, give at least three options of what they can do, even if one of the options is leaving things as they are.
  • Avoid triangulating the situation. In other words, don’t bring a third party into the conflict in the hope of influencing the outcome. Although there will be times when it is necessary to bring in higher-level decisionmakers, use that card judiciously.
  • Be transparent about your next course of action. If you are not, you may damage your credibility.
  • Finally, let the other person own his/her decision. Although you may not agree with the decision, when it is not your decision to make, let the decision-maker take responsibility. Then, do your best to support its execution.

These are just a few tips to help you get through an immediate situation. The greater goal is to get ahead of the game by becoming a strategic partner, so that you are an integral part of the decision-making process. As a strategic partner, you can influence decisions rather than appear as a barrier to them. As a strategic partner, it is an expectation that you be part of the decision-making process. Don’t wait for an invitation to a seat at the table. Invite yourself!