“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t have to.”(Richard Branson)


Didier Marlier

March 08, 2020

From Disruption to Engagement

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I recently had dinner with a friend, CHRO in a large multinational. A strong idealist, considering his mission to be to develop and prepare their employees for the shock of the Disruption Economy, he was surprisingly annoyed.

“Didier, how do you create an HR Community with people who are so different?

  • Some are idealists, putting themselves at risk for the benefit of our people, whereas others are here to secure the last job they could get themselves in and try to stay hidden and last as long as possible
  • Some are catalysts of change and keen to get our organization ready for the Disruption Economy, whereas others are scared and conservative cynics
  • Some are proud and chose to be HR specialists, whereas others have been fired from several jobs in the company and owe their safety to a “friend” who landed them a position in HR
  • Some are courageous and behave as sparring-partners for strong leaders, whereas others will spend their energy spotting the powershifts in the organization’s politics and guess what it is that the leader wants to hear
  • Some are into Human Relationships, proactively creating the culture, addressing issues, preparing the Future whereas others are still into Human Resources, mainly reactive. And these are all my people…”

The HR function can indeed be seen as an organisation or a team: A clear leader and hierarchical lines (even if HR Business-Partners are stuck somewhere in a matrix dual “belonging lines” subjecting them sometimes to loyalty conflicts), clear rules, clear processes and, in principle, aligned objectives. And maybe that is where the problem is… Should companies see the HR “Responsibility” as another hierarchical, pyramidal and siloed model or should we start contemplating that it could be an “organism”, an engaged community who… engages the whole company behind a single compelling purpose (as Doug Conant, ex CEO Campbell soup used to say): “To win the marketplace, you must first win the workplace!”

Don’t polarize on differences, share and live a noble Purpose:

My friend’s challenge laid in the diversity of reasons for which his people had chosen or been parachuted in their jobs. Some were led by a “sacred Mission”, others seemed bitter and scared, aiming at “playing safe”. I reminded him of those leaders able to “resuscitate the dead” by engaging their community into a superior purpose, because they believed in it themselves. I never forget the purposeful Henry Vth speech before the historical battle of Agincourt, when his troops had lost hope and were petrified by fear.

Too often, by trying to unite our people, we unintentionally focus (or in the case of some political leaders, we encourage them to be obsessed) on what separates them. Having a shared, “noble”, societal Purpose has become critical nowadays. My encouragement to him was to move away from posters, sentences and mission statements and passionately engage his people into a “larger than life” Purpose!

Stop thinking of yourselves as a Team. Behave as a community:

One would be right in saying that the HR function has all the attributes of a team (hierarchy, organization, processes & procedures, specialization, aligned objectives, etc.) But HR has much better to do than position itself as another sub-organization competing for attention, recognition, influence and budget within the larger one: “Put yourselves out of the political game! You are coaches, challengers/sparring partners, free thinkers, Be the Kings’ fools and advisers!” I suggested, “Exemplify tomorrow’s community. Don’t be yesterday’s narrow minded and political organization.”

Forget Diversity, practice Inclusion:

Diversity sucks… It is a manipulated statistical result often focusing on the wrong criteria (gender, race) and building cynicism and unfairness towards those it seeks to promote. It is sickening to see the ironic smile of those suggesting that “She got the job because she was a woman…”

Be inclusive instead! Inclusion is about forcing myself to understand another person’s point of view, being sufficiently open-minded, curious and respectful to try and find out what they will bring to the Purpose. Inclusion is about Psychological Safety, it is about Challenge and Support! It is about how we will build on each other’s strengths!

The lessons of a famous educational video (“From No to Yes”) explain the behaviours needed to create an Inclusive Culture:

  • Support, Empathy, Respect & Understanding: Listen Actively, show them that you understand that they feel strongly, what they feel strongly and why they feel strongly about it.
  • Challenge & Assertiveness: explain your own feelings, refer back to their points and make your points firmly but stay friendly
  • Co-creation & Inclusion: construct the solution from everyone’s needs

Coach up or coach out:

And some of your people will not want to go for that transformation. The advice frequently given is not to spend overdue amount of time on the “Neinsagers” (Nay Sayers). But before writing them off and making them martyrs, seek to understand which fear moves them (Fear for Survival, Territory or Habits? See our blogpost), then coach them up or coach them out.

When driving home, I thought this conversation could also apply to different communities than HR which is why I chose to share it with you, with the approval of my friend.

My apologies for quoting myself here… I can’t help thinking of a G. Bernard Shaw’s statement: “I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation with myself…”

I wish us all to be great leaders in the coronavirus-hysteria days!


  1. Lidiane Oliveira

    Dear Didier,
    It is always a pleasure to read your articles – such a source of inspiration, full of wisdom and sanity!
    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas with us!!!

    P.S. Could you share the link of the video you mention, please? From no to yes. Thank you in advance!

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Lidiane,
      I am flattered when someone with your level of responsibility finds value in me sharing my observations.
      Thank you for the sanity 😉
      Unfortunately I cant share the From No to Yes as it is copyrighted by video arts their producer.
      Looking fwd to reconnect in Brazil


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