What future do we see for ourselves as HR?  When we hold up the mirror that we so frequently encourage others to hold up in the name of development, what do we see? Does it make us hold our head high or does it cause us look away, self conscious in our own professional self image?

I want to talk about relationships, why they matter and the possibilities for us a wider HR community in resetting why relationships, arguably above all else, is the thing that matters most.

When we mention relationships, we are sometimes accused of being ‘so HR’:

“This soft fluffy stuff gets us nowhere.  We have far more important things to be concerning ourselves with at the moment!”

Yet in practice we hear real issues that have arisen from situations where relationships have broken down:

“If only they would listen….”

“If only they would change!”

I can hear all these voices and still, I believe we have an opportunity to be even more influential as a HR Community, to add real value to our current and future workforce in appreciating the opportunities that strong relationships enable, foster and result in.  If we see every situation through the lens of relationships we can transform the language we use to talk about our experienced reality and therefore the conversations we enable ourselves, and others, to have.

In our current global situation, the importance of relationships really comes to the fore.  Not least because the next 6-12 months don’t look easy, but the realities of recovery and renewal will require us all to explore new terrain. We will need to play our part individually and collectively, locally and nationally in creating both transformational and sustainable solutions for an already stretched and strained health and social care system.  Changing the language to that of relationships can enable us to break the inevitable recurring patterns of conversation that will otherwise  go back round in circles. If we don’t take the time to think on what makes change work, what makes people tick, how can we all flourish, find meaning and belonging then the wellbeing challenges we currently see in our workforce and nationally, will increase rather than decrease. How can we put people at the heart of our thinking? How can we show that HR does do ‘human’?

Relationships will always outlast any initiative or crisis and are significant to enabling transformative practices.  If relationships get stuck, change will get stuck. Behaviours like collaboration, camaraderie and compassion stem from the effort put into a relationship.  You know that, and I know that.  And yet, action-task-results are valued and celebrated over compassion, collaboration and learning from one another.  One dominates the other, and yet one without the other doesn’t work either.  There is a delicate balance to be found and shared.

We do have the opportunity of a lifetime in front of us to really influence how we will recover the health and social care system once the pandemic is either under control or over for good.  Much of the way we go about this will matter arguably more than what we do.  The quality of our relationships is a real key to everyone’s wellbeing and resilience for the long haul,  and in supporting others in realising and developing this for themselves.  If we hold up the mirror, will we see what they see? Will we see an HR population who value and practice the importance of relationships – and inspire that in the wider workforce?

Some questions for reflection – for the event or for your own personal or team reflection:

How do we, and can we,  value and role model the importance of relationships in our everyday interaction?

What is the HR role in fostering cultures that place real value on relationships?

What, as a community, can we do together, however big or small, right now?

What is possible, what could you do from today, whatever your own role and organisation?


For more on relationships see Brigid Russell’s paper ‘It’s all about relationships’ in the Project Lift 2020 report.


Our thanks to Jenni Jones, Sara Dewar and David Miller for this blog, supported by Kaleidoscope, Project Lift’s Community partners. Find out more about our community events past and present