Weinstein, HR and Success

I was watching some TV chat-shows go on about the Harvey Weinstein situation. Much like the Uber Kalanic situation, people are asking questions like where was HR? Where was management? Really? Do you really think HR had any power?

I believe HR and management should always make sure the culture (pattern of attitudes and actions) is healthy. They need to nurture a productive, successful work environment. But, in both of these situations, HR likely could not have done much. Likewise for the management within the company. The board, on the other hand, is different.

After more than two decades in HR and management, the champion of workplace health role is always something I’ve taken very seriously and the same goes for all of the HR pros I know. It becomes a critical situation when you bring a matter forward to the CEO and/or Board and they are dismissive or unresponsive. In my entire career, I’ve only had this happen to me three times. When it does happen you are simply powerless. You can quit, but rarely does quitting send a real message. The CEO is likely grateful to get rid of you. I documented the matter and continued to hold firm on my judgment. In my situations, and I believe the same for the Weinstein and Kalanic cases, the issue is power and our collective definition of success. We are the problem.

Quick disclosure — none of my 3 dismissed situations were close to the Weinstein case. I’ve been lucky to work with leaders who take sexual harassment issues very seriously.

When someone is successful, we give them power. We hold them up. They get permission for things the vast majority of us don’t. I recall watching a few Americans interviewed about the elections explain how happy they were with Trump. Person after person said that it was great to finally have a successful businessman in the White House. This isn’t political commentary, I just found their perceptions of success interesting. In a less glamorous situation, an employee in upper management was reported for emotionally abusing members of his team and the complaint was dismissed because he was delivering results. Yes, he was successful and it permitted behaviors that less successful people would be fired for. The situation is the same — success provides insulation.

But, what is success? Getting results = making money? Rich? Celebrity? Gross domestic product? What about attribution errors and bias that makes us assume that people who are rich or have celebrity got there on their efforts alone? What about good fortune, right place, right time, right circumstances, right family? What is behind the presumed success? I don’t want to diminish hard work, and there is that chance that so many hard-working, talented people yearn for.

What if we could improve our collective definition of success? What if it could be about being wise and not necessarily being rich? What if it was about being BOTH kind and driven? What if boards of directors didn’t push to maximize profit, cash, or margin at all costs? What if we didn’t push for GDP growth at the cost of certain communities and our environment? What if our definition of success were more balanced? What if we defined more than a singular measure of greatness? What if people could feel empowered to say no to successful, powerful people? Can we lift up a different type of successful person who won’t breed fear and submission? Certainly making money, delighting customers, making profitable movies, and optimizing margin are important, but at what cost?

Can we elevate the importance of attitudes and character into our perception of success? We must be careful too — sometimes great character comes from fumbling a few times then we learn, grow and become better. We are all fallible, so our search for strong character must be thoughtful. We must think beyond the superficial.

Weinstein, Kalanic and other coercive, abusive, and despotic leaders need consequences and we have been given yet another chance to reframe our construct for success.

HR and management can certainly quit their jobs when faced with these situations but not all people can just quit. To reduce the Weinstein issue to an HR issue misses the big picture. What is measured gets managed right? If success is all we are measuring, is it all we are managing?

I believe we need heroes. But, let’s take a hard look at our heroes and why we admire them. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies and admire some actors. I appreciate their art, but I cannot admire them beyond that without having a sense of their character. Let’s not let wealth and celebrity be our only measures of success. There are so many amazing people and ethical companies out there — let’s lift them up.