I have officially been outside the walls of corporate HR for almost 6 months. I guess because I no longer wear an official HR hat, other business professionals – like CEO’s, CFO’s, COO’s, business owners, leadership in general – now feel comfortable telling me what they really think about the HR function. What I am hearing makes me very sad.
The following is a list of direct quotes that I have heard:
“HR is an impediment to me getting anything done.”
“I try not to talk to HR if I can avoid it.”
“The HR department is the most change resistant department in the whole company.”
“HR, now there’s a completely useless department.”
“I don’t trust anyone in HR.”
“All HR does is tell me what I can’t do.”
“HR is worthless!”
Like I said, those comments sadden me. Of course, I defend the function. It is my profession after all. However, I do believe that there are many HR departments out there that are perpetuating the bad reputation. The number one reason they do so is by being so afraid of the law that they stand behind it and use it as the excuse for telling leadership what they can’t do instead of helping them understand what they can do. Heck, I’ve been guilty of that myself at times. It’s easy to do when you have potential lawsuits staring you in the face. The key is to overcome the fear by immersing yourself in the laws and then educating leadership on liabilities associated with violations or even perceived violations. By “seeking first to understand” the law, then educating your leaders on what you’ve learned and providing them solutions for what they “can do” based on that knowledge, you are creating a powerful connection with your business partners that says, “I’ve got your back.”
Another reason for the perpetuation of the bad reputation is that many HR professionals think it is their duty to defend or represent the employee. By doing so, they are driving a wedge between the HR function and leadership. My philosophy is that HR’s number one customer is NOT the employee, rather it is leadership. That doesn’t mean employees aren’t an HR customer. They are! But the best thing we can do for the employee is to develop a cohesive relationship with leadership – partnering on value added programs and services that support and engage the most important resource in the business, people! As an HR professional within an organization I can’t get anything done with or for the general employee population if I don’t have leadership in my court. Therefore, everything the HR function does needs to be with the buy-in and support of leadership. Yes, I said everything! Otherwise you will always be fighting a losing battle. It’s akin to when children play the parents. If you’re a parent, you know what I am talking about.
Additionally, HR is not the voice of the employee. Yes, there are times when you will need to relay information on behalf of the employee, but when it comes to employee relations HR is the conversation facilitator or mediator, not the mouth piece from employee to boss.
Lastly, I believe the reason that most HR departments are considered a necessary evil is because no one knows them. They stay behind their desk pushing papers, talking on the phone, facilitating meetings, or as some managers would like to believe, coming up with ways to make the managers life miserable! HR needs to get out from behind the desk, see and be seen. How are you ever going to prove your value sitting behind your desk all the time?
Of all the functions that need to live the “management by wandering around” principle, it is HR. I guarantee you I accomplished a whole lot more by going to my constituents than I did making them come to me. You don’t have to have an appt. Crash the office; crash the water cooler conversations; crash the meetings. Use your eyes and your ears to listen to what’s going on in the workplace. Use the time to get to know your business partner on a deeper level and collaborate on something worthwhile. Then follow-up and do it again. Put it on your calendar. I promise it will make a difference in how you and the HR function are perceived.
Do I think the HR function is worthless? Hell no! However, I do think that while there are quite a few HR departments out there that help create value for the function, I also believe that there are many more who don’t, because they stand behind the law, they don’t understand who their number one customer is, and they conduct all their business from behind their desk.