Wanted: HR Professionals Who Can Navigate Paradox

If you’ve been following this series of blogs on a comprehensive study of HR competencies, detailed in a new book, Victory Through Organization, you already know about the importance of adopting Credible Activist and Strategic Positioner skills to be an effective HR leader. A third essential HR skills, identified by the HR competency study (HRCS), HR competency, identified by the HR com, is the ability to navigate the many paradoxical challenges of today’s business environment.

In total, the HRCS has identified nine areas where HR can make the biggest impact – internally and externally. Perhaps none are as tricky as what the research identified as the Paradox Navigator competency.

Rare, as we all know, are business challenges with straight-forward solutions. Today’s businesses must now cope with dramatic contextual changes in the race to win.

Hello Workplace Ambiguity

Navigating paradox requires embracing new tensions and encouraging dialogue that encourages organizational agility. Instead of focusing on "either/or," paradoxical thinking emphasizes "and/also" thinking to keep pace with change. "When organizations have single solutions to problems, they do not fully address how to change," the researchers say.

The challenge, for HR, is to ensure that business teams know how to both diverge and converge, and when it’s the right time for convergence and divergence. HR must monitor discussions and help teams understand when few options are being considered or when more unity is needed to focus attention.

"We found, in our work that as Paradox Navigator, HR professionals may not be the most popular members of a business team because they raise difficult, but necessary issues. But their ability to navigate paradox is the most important skills for business results."

Becoming a Paradox Navigator

While not an innate trait, Paradox Navigator skills can be learned. The personal skills required including having the ability to:

  • Deal with cognitive complexity. Specific behaviors associated with this skill, the researchers say, are being able to see different sides of an issue, embracing new ideas and points of view, and seeing patterns in events.
  • Be socially endearing. In other words, "disagree without being disagreeable," the researchers note.
  • Be socially connected. Can you see beyond your own biases and predispositions?
  • Be grounded in a strong set of values. Consistency of behavior is key.

Additionally, the researchers point out that Paradox Navigators must surround themselves with divergent thinkers, be clear in decision-making processes, be willing to try new things in the name of growth, and have the ability to zoom in and zoom out between vision and details.

"HR professionals and business leaders can acquire and improve these Paradox Navigation skills through extensive training, development and coaching. But, perhaps the most important prerequisite is to recognize the importance of navigating paradox in achieving business results. HR professionals who want to deliver real business value must become Paradox Navigators."

This is one of several HRCI blogs on the HRCS study and the new book, Victory Through Organization. Learn about the nine emerging competencies for HR, read more about how HR roles have become more complex, the need to HR must navigate paradox, how to be viewed as a "HR as Strategic Positioner" and the importance of HR and credible activism.