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  The Role Of Human Resources Departments

Some human resources (HR) departments (sometimes called personnel or a current new name) really add value to a company. Some don't. That's no surprise. But what sets apart the good ones from the bad ones? Here's one way of looking at it.

Some human resource departments have maintained an old command and control mentality, where they see their jobs as making sure managers and employees are doing what they are supposed to. Is everyone on time? Why not? What about sick leave? Are all the rules being followed? It's not that these departments are misguided, because some rules, (e.g... hiring practices, safety, harassment, etc.) ARE important and need to be handled centrally by a company. Or, certain programs and procedures may best be handled by a central department because of the need to coordinate some actions across the entire company. Problems arise, however, when the HR departments forgets that it's purpose is to serve the needs of the company, the managers and the employees, to help THEM get the work done.

After all, is your company's human resources department a PROFIT CENTER? Of course not. The HR department doesn't produce anything or sell anything but it can help the rest of the company make things or sell things by smoothing the path on some matters.

What sets apart good HR departments from bad is that the bad ones lose their service orientation, and forget that if they don't help others get their jobs done, they won't get cooperation from those they should be helping. The good ones recognize that while they are obligated to do some regulation of some processes, that they can play important leadership roles in the organization. And that does NOT mean dictating but balancing off the needs of the organization with the needs of the managers and employees.

What would this look like? Let's take an example: performance appraisal. Poor HR departments go about performance appraisal this way. They devise a set of rules and forms on their own, then go forth (if they have executive support) and TELL managers and employees what they SHALL do. They tend not to consult, or if they consult just forget to listen to the people who have to use these sometimes monstrous procedures. What happens is that since HR tends to be somewhat distant from the users of the system, the process misses. Managers and employees see the process as another hoop to jump through, and stall, or avoid doing what they are supposed to. What happens is that HR then has to move into the police or enforcer role, to try to coerce managers to do what they are supposed to. That gets everyone frustrated and drives wedges between HR and the rest of the company.

The good HR department goes about it differently. While they recognize that performance appraisal needs to be, in some respects, a central organization process, they also recognize that if the process isn't responsive to at least some needs of managers and employees, it will never succeed. So rather than dictating the procedures, forms and minutiae, the smart HR folks create (in consultation with both managers and employees), a skeleton outline of the process. This skeleton outlines the basic components, but leaves the details to the managers. So rather than telling managers they much use the twelve page form provided, they simply say that managers must document the performance discussions, and forward them to HR at least annually. See the difference? The shift here is from dictating details to providing a framework and helping people work within that general framework. It's a SUPPORTING function, and not a lead actor.

Everyone benefits (including the HR staff) by backing off and recognizing that one can both support and lead at the same time without dictating. The bottom line is that the more HR dictates and plays enforcer, the fewer managers and staff feels they need to take responsibility for the functions HR is dictating. The more dictation the more resistance from the rest of the company.

So, HR folks. Look to providing frameworks, rather than details. Look to serve rather than to command.

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