…but you can’t make him drink. I have learned a lot working with horses. They are emotionally honest creatures, tuned into their senses for survival. If the water you want a horse to drink has arsenic in it, you might not know it but the horse would.

That deep instinct may or may not be present in your business leaders. In my January 8th blog post I said transforming Human Resources requires more than structural change. If you move people around, change titles, change processes you’ll get temporary change but not systemically, impactful change.

For systemic changes to impact behavior positively, changes in attitude must happen within the members of a team — A deep shift in outlook, in context, in the view of the world is often referred to as a “sea change” that affects how I look at myself, how I look at your contribution. Without it, you can change the external factors and will see some short-term changes but not long-term ones that senior management is requesting of Human Resources.

Wharton professor Peter Cappelli captured the broader challenge in a Harvard Business Review cover story several months ago titled ‘Why we Love to Hate HR…and what HR Can Do About it’ with the cover It’s Time to Blow Up HR and Start Something New. Following the publication, he commented on the reactions that have come from his story and an earlier one by Ram Charan suggesting that HR should be split in two.

Cappelli said, “The people who find this most irritating are often those further up in the hierarchy. HR is the function that most powerfully and frequently tells even top executives what to do. One of the great things about being a boss is that people are nicer to you, because you have power over them and they are often afraid to push back. So when bosses do hear that subordinates are unhappy with something they’ve said or done, it usually comes from HR. But most people don’t like messengers bringing unpleasant messages.”

Human Resource leaders with whom I speak admit their frustration that the first hurdle to Human Resources transformation is senior management. Even when they wanted to impact the culture they would first have to see willingness — expressed in appropriate budget and cultural aligning behaviors – from the senior team. They don’t see it, and those are the people who approve their paychecks. You grasp the catch 22 here, yes? Culture emanates from the top. If senior management isn’t empowering cultural change by “being the change they want to see in the world,” as Mahatma Ghandi said, there isn’t much hope for the rest of the organization.

What do you see in your organization?