Mending Fences

While the task of repairing broken relationships may seem daunting, neglecting the problem can be damaging to your organization.

Steve Browne By Steve Browne August 28, 2023

As I’ve mentioned here before, my wife and I have lived in the same house since 1991. When we moved in, we were excited about the beautiful split-rail wooden fence that borders our backyard. But over time, we’ve had rails rot to the point of needing to be replaced. 

The horizontal rails aren’t much of a challenge. The hardest part is getting them from the hardware store back to our house while they protrude out the back of my SUV. The extreme hurdle that has only come up three times in 32 years is when a vertical post breaks off.

This usually occurs at the post’s base, but it results in six rails being affected. The vertical posts are set in a hole about 2 1/2 feet deep. So, getting the partial, buried part of the post out of the ground is difficult. 

Fortunately, my daughter Melanie reached out recently and surprised me by asking if I would like her help repairing the fence. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance!

We traveled to one of the big-box hardware stores nearby to buy a vertical post and all the replacement rails we needed. After two hours of digging, lots of mud and water were removed along with the buried post remnant, and a hole appeared. We placed the new vertical post and made sure it was level. We put two of the old horizontal rails back in their spots and added four brand-new rails. 

The fence had been in disrepair for more than two years. I didn’t have the right weather, enough time or a willing helper, so it was easier to make excuses than face the work needed to fix the fence.

Sound familiar?

We all have relationships in our lives that could use some repair—personally and professionally. But we’re better when there aren’t broken fences. Too often, we spend time talking to other people about how relationships are fractured. We avoid going to the people involved, for some of the same reasons I chose not to fix my split-rail fence. We tell ourselves we don’t have time, and we’re sure that it won’t help. 

This can’t be the case. Companies that continue to work in a manner where factions of people pull each other apart will never be as successful as they could be.

HR pros need to be the ones who go to the hardware store, get the materials needed and pull the people together whose relationships need mending. Being willing to step in and do the work to put the organizational fence back in order is essential to leading from the HR chair. Instead of listening to the complaints and conversations in which people keep the fences broken, take the time to turn things around by resolving that you won’t allow any gaps in your perimeter anymore.

We need to realize that when our boundaries are in place and our relationships are healthy, then people can perform. And when each employee performs, the organization succeeds as a whole.

So, look around your company’s backyard and determine where your fence needs attention. Then, get to the store, buy the rails needed and start mending.  

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is chief people officer for LaRosa’s Inc., a restaurant chain in Ohio and Indiana with 11 locations. The author of HR Unleashed!! (SHRM, 2023), HR Rising!! (SHRM, 2020) and HR on Purpose!! (SHRM, 2017), he has been an HR professional for more than 30 years.

Illustration by Phil Marden for HR Magazine.



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