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HR Consult Monthly Article

The New Role of the HR Professional

Dear Joan,
I have noticed that any time I try to set up an appointment with an HR person or ask them any questions via e-mail, they always carbon copy my boss. It then feels like I am going behind her back. Moreover, it feels like they are not interested in hearing or helping. I can think of many issues where a person would simply want information from HR and not want their boss to know. Is it unreasonable to expect that they would be an employee advocate?

We judge ourselves by our best intentions but everyone else judges us by our last worst act. I suspect your HR department has good intentions-attempting to keep bosses informed about their employees' concerns and questions. But it in this example, it seems as if their role is out of balance.

Human Resources is in transition in many organizations-from police to strategic partner. And, as a result, some HR professionals are not clear about their role, so their actions send the wrong signals to their constituencies, which erodes their potential contribution to the business.

Here are some classic examples of how HR gets out of balance:

HR sees management as their only customer.

As with your scenario about copying bosses on all emails, HR departments alienate employees when this is their focus. Employees don't feel safe approaching HR with sensitive questions, so conflicts between employees and their managers go unreported. In addition, employees don't feel safe complaining to their bosses about the HR department either, for fear they will pay a price. Employees feel that their only recourse in a bad situation is to the leave the organization or feel trapped and demoralized. In many cases, small problems brew until they reach crisis proportions.

HR sees themselves as the employee advocates and chief social workers.

In an effort to be approachable and helpful, HR encourages employees to come to them with complaints and concerns. Unfortunately, they too often take the side of the employee before doing the fact-finding necessary for a balanced view of the issue.

In this scenario, the HR person puts on their hero's cape and charges off to the employee's boss to solve the problem, rather than teaching the employee how to take responsibility for solving it him or herself. The end result is a resentful group of managers who tend to view HR as meddlers, who should keep their noses out of their business.

In the case of an employee complaint about his boss, the HR professional should work on the sidelines to coach the employee, while discreetly and tactfully finding ways to coach the boss so that the relationship between them is strengthened, rather than jeopardized.

If a boss is a persistent problem, HR needs to work directly with that manager's boss and the manager himself (if needed), to hold that person accountable for changing problematic behavior.

HR sees themselves as a “pair of hands,” rather than a
       partner to management.

These folks do as there are told. Typically, they process transactions and haven't been strategic partners to management. When a manager calls and says, “My employee needs a time management class. Can you sign him up for one?” this HR person will do their best to meet the request.
A more value-added response would be to ask questions such as, “What is the employee doing that leads you to believe he needs a class? How is his performance being affected? Have you discussed your concerns about missed deadlines with him? Have you explored other potential causes besides time management?” This value-added approach serves to help the manager find the real cause of the problem. There is a big difference between helping hands and a pair of hands, that just do what they are told.

HR sees themselves as “owning” the people issues.

This outdated philosophy assumes that HR should do the hiring, firing and disciplining of employees. This HR Police image causes fear and encourages managers to abdicate responsibility for their own employees. As a result, managers can easily point the finger at HR when a new employee doesn't work out, and they see training and development as “HR's job.” In this climate you will also hear, “HR won't let me fire anyone.” This is a signal that HR wants control and isn't holding managers accountable as partners in these processes.

So what is the appropriate role of HR?

Savvy HR professionals see their primary responsibility as meeting the business needs of the organization by managing the human assets. They balance the needs of management, employees and other stakeholders to meet that higher objective.

For instance, they will respect confidentiality as long as an issue doesn't cross the line of legal, ethical or discriminatory behavior that could jeopardize the organization.

A sophisticated HR professional will push back assertively when management is out of line with an employee but will also be direct with an employee who needs to be set straight. The HR pro will also remove themselves from all relationships and become an objective investigator, in cases of alleged discrimination.

At times, HR will have to drag both managers and employees kicking and screaming toward necessary changes that are best for the business. It's a delicate balancing act but one that needs thoughtful discussion and conscious awareness in every Human Resources department because their reputation-and effectiveness-depend on it.

© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.

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Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.

An award-winning speaker, Joan speaks to corporate and association audiences and has shared the podium with such notables as President Bush, Sr., Captain James Lovell, Elizabeth Dole and Dr. Joyce Brothers. Joan earned the CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), a designation awarded by the National Speakers Association to less than 400 speakers in the world.

Her weekly column, “Joan Lloyd at Work,” has been syndicated for over 21 years in newspapers across America and on the Web. Her line of management, career and job hunting tools (booklets, audios, CD & video) are available on her website.

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© Joan Lloyd & Associates.
Reprinted with permission from Joan Lloyd & Associates.

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