Knowing the ropes


As many of you know, one of my passions is history, primarily US Civil War history.  I was recently reading the book, “Last Flag Down” about the last Confederate warship to surrender after the end of the war.  One of the nuggets of information I gathered from the book was the origin of the phrase, “knowing the ropes”.    It referred to the fact that all the sailors and officers on sailing ships had to know the basics of  what each and every rope did as part of the rigging on the ship controlled.  The rigging raised and lowered the sails which gave ships propulsion and if they were not raised or configured properly, the ship would not move or, worse case scenario in bad weather, cause the demise of the vessel.  If you didn’t know the ropes, you were not a good sailor and especially not officer material.

As usual, I found a tie in with the profession of human resources.  There has been a huge uproar in the profession in the last few years about HR being a strategic partner, be a bigger part of the organization and have a seat at a certain piece of furniture.While we as a profession must move on past the basics, we can not ignore the basics.  It doesn’t matter what we do for employee engagement, organization development or strategic planning, it can all be undone in short order if payroll is not processed correctly.  We cannot ask employees to become engaged in the work place if we cannot get their benefits straight.  Members of the organization will not remain with it if we do not ensure that the front line managers are not trained to handle their part of HR well.  Even if some or all of that is outsourced, we still need to make sure we understand how the basics are done to allow for proper implementation by contractors.

I firmly believe that HR needs to move past just “knowing the ropes”, but we cannot forget what moves the ship forward.


One Response to “Knowing the ropes”

  1. Parag Says:

    Totally agree. It’s back breaking work to keep the ship moving. But the oarsmen are either slaves or those relegated to the unseen parts below the deck. The captain doesn’t bother about them if the ship keeps moving, and hollers when it doesn’t. That’s why everyone is so eager to get past the ropes. Quite sad.

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