I was at the Good Leadership Breakfast this month, and the host was talking about an award that her family created – the Courage Award. It was a travelling trophy awarded to the family member that did something brave that week. I was struck by the power of that idea and started to imagine the impact of encouraging courage at work. Dictionary.com has three definitions of courage: (1) the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, pain, etc. (2) the courage of one’s convictions, the confidence to act in accordance with one’s beliefs. (3) take one’s courage in both hands, to nerve oneself to perform an action. There are some simple yet powerful things we can do in HR to encourage courage at work that will help people face their fears, act confidently on their convictions, and take action.
Face Your Fear. Change in our personal and professional lives is a constant. So how can HR help our employees and leaders cope more effectively? It starts by acknowledging this reality. When working through a big change, like a spin off or layoff, or a smaller change, like a new benefit plan or PTO policy, talk about fear. Encourage people to discuss their concerns and worries, and help brainstorm solutions and options. Really listen to what you hear and be brave enough to respond. Be willing to change a plan or policy based on new information. Don’t be afraid of – or limited by – timelines and deadlines. Have the courage to do the right thing so that the project is done right.
Act on your convictions. Being an HR manager is a hard job. You wear a lot of hats ranging from coach, to project manager, to strategist. One of the most important hats you wear is as the conscience of the company. You have the unique position of hearing both what employees think and senior leaders are planning. And both parties are counting on you to serve as a bridge to the other. So listen, learn, and act. If you believe that the new values senior leaders are working on won’t resonate, speak up. If your gut says it’s the wrong time to launch an engagement survey, don’t do it. If you ever see sexist, racist, or otherwise disrespectful behavior or language – call it out. As Gloria Steinem said, “Whenever one person stands up and says this is wrong, it helps others to do the same.” Be the model of acting on your convictions for the organization – and help both employees and leaders learn how to follow your example.
Take Action. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” A powerful way that HR can take courage “in both hands” is to focus less on communication change plans and more on change action plans. Work with teams to understand what is important to them. What actions help them achieve or preserve those things? How will they measure their progress? Celebrate their success? It is easy to have a talking head, senior leader video tell the organization about the benefits of a big change. It is impactful to understand the WIIFM from the employee and managers’ point of view and to help them to take action to achieve what’s in it for them.
The third Tuesday of October is National Face Your Fears Day. Consider making this an event in your workplace. Ask people to share how they overcame a fear or to discuss a fear they are struggling with. Create a Courage Award that you give every October to encourage courage at your workplace. But don’t stop there. Remember that courage is composed of big and small things every day. Most of the time these acts are invisible, but it’s time we shine a light on these examples. There are some simple yet powerful things we can do in HR to encourage courage at work that will help people face their fears, act confidently on their convictions, and to take action.