HR Management & Compliance

Partner or Police: How Is your HR Department Perceived?

By Donna B. Brown

After more than 20 years as an HR Practitioner in various organizations and industries, I’ve come to the realization there are a few simple rules that HR managers or other practitioners can use to build strategic alliances with an organization to gain that valuable “Seat at the Table.”

I have worked in organizations across the United States where HR presence was nonexistent (which I had to create) or had previous HR leadership that was not trusted. Going into a situation where HR was regarded as the “HR Police” took significant strides to build the confidence and trust so employees and managers could feel secure in receiving unbiased customer service and valued advice.

Realization #1:  You may only get one chance to make a good impression.

Everyone is a customer, no matter their role in the organization. Being professional and polite to everyone goes a long way. From the janitor to the CEO, everyone HR comes in contact with must feel the same level of respect and sense of urgency (while balancing priorities) when they are in need of advice or help. I’ve seen this rule neglected when HR Departments regard themselves as the resource for management, rather than the resource for the organization as a whole.  When people come to HR’s door, they just care about getting their problem resolved and feeling they matter.  This is where HR has the opportunity to show compassion, competence, and the opportunity to educate the audience on how valuable HR can be.  If the janitor, secretary, or line worker is being treated as another spoke in the wheel, and not like the asset to the organization they are, the word of their treatment will spread.  If that occurs, the HR Department will be perceived poorly, which is difficult to change.

Realization #2:  You have to be more than a “people-person” to be in HR. 

When someone asks me about entering the HR profession, my first question is usually why the person is interested in the HR field.  The standard response is, “Because I am a people-person.”  What does that mean? Next I hear that the person has a strong desire to help others.  That usually can be accomplished no matter the job, unless the profession is isolated from human contact.  Therefore, I probe deeper to find the source of their interest.  I sometimes hear that people naturally confide in them and advice is provided. That sounds like a counselor, which may or may not be a good skill set for an HR professional.  I’m hoping to find the winning combination of skills that include: active listening, a sense of humor, being polite, being professional, possessing strong organizational and communication skills, having the ability to persuade and provide sound judgment, maintain confidentiality, and finally, a person with a healthy dose of patience and integrity, coupled with a genuine interest in all people.

Realization #3:  It is OK not to know all the answers. 

Many people generally want to give an answer when provided a question. This may not be the best course of action, especially if the answer is wrong.  No one knows everything.  If I’m unsure, I receive more respect when I say, “Let me do some research, and I will get back with you on the correct answer.”  That hopefully tells the customer there is a genuine interest in their issue and they will get the correct answer.  Delaying is much better than giving an “off the cuff” response that may be incomplete or inaccurate.  Most importantly, one must get back to the customer as soon as possible or practical and not let them wait too long.  The expectation of how much time it will take to obtain the answer should be established.  A wrong answer or no response will be perceived as incompetence or neglect, which will alienate the customer.

Realization #4:  Get to know your customer.

HR is a very busy profession with many dynamics and moving parts.  HR Practitioners can be bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae.  But, being a strategic partner means not just knowing the names of department heads and their job titles, but taking a vested interest in what they do and how they contribute to the organization.  This means stretching HR’s skill set in understanding how the company’s mission applies to each department or organizational unit.  HR usually is responsible for organizational charts, but this is merely an administrative task.  Personally visiting with the management team and their employees on their own turf goes a long way to understanding their unique issues and concerns of which HR can be a valued contributor.  The goal is not just to understand the strategic plan, but to be a part of it.

These realizations may seem simplistic and common sense, but it amazes me how many HR Practitioners I meet fail to apply these simple rules due to a lack of patience or arrogance.  HR is not the enforcer of rules and regulations (i.e., HR Police), but rather the support mechanism to train managers and employees on how to apply the rules and regulations fairly and consistently throughout the organization. Applying these simple realizations will build trust in HR, which will be communicated to the highest level in the organization.  This confidence will open the doors to becoming a strategic partner where the organization feels HR’s presence is invaluable, because the HR Practitioner has the pulse of the organization and deserves that “Seat at the Table.”  Human Resources is about people, not just systems.  This simple fact is the single most important point that can make or break an HR Department, which can have a major effect on the profession as a whole.

About Today’s HR Daily Advisor Blogger:

Donna (Beasley) Brown has led Human Resources organizations in a wide variety of industries for over 20 years to include retail, health care, law enforcement, federal government contracting, and local government agencies across the United States.

A Kansas City native, Ms. Brown’s Mid-western values and work ethics have been her personal and professional foundation. Identifying policy and program deficiencies and then forging relationships with stakeholders to collaboratively address and fix the issues has been the cornerstone of her professional career. Ms. Brown is currently an Independent Human Resources Consultant specializing in workforce and organizational development in the Phoenix, AZ, metropolitan area. She will bring integrity, professionalism, confidentiality, and competence to any organization she partners with.