What the Boss Really Thinks of HR

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Photo by istockphoto.com

Are human resources professionals the “lackeys of business?”

I used to think so. That is, until I learned more about what they do.

Now I have a tremendous amount of respect for HR professionals. In fact, we need more people like them.

HR is a very difficult role. They’re trying to keep the business out of trouble while walking the careful line of legal territory.

At the same time they’re heading off potentially serious issues, the company keeps dumping miscellaneous tasks on them, such as party planning and writing the monthly newsletter, because they are so wonderfully efficient.

Why no respect for HR?

Their door is always open to employees who just need a minute to vent, while trying to handle hiring and onboarding of new hires. They’re negotiating peace between managers and employees, but they can’t rest for a minute because there are always new uncharted waters to navigate, such as the health care law.

They’re expected to know everything about everything. And don’t get me started on paperwork, legal notices, and deadlines that must be met. They handle all this, without grumbling.

HR professionals are hardly the lackeys of business. What they are is a vital part of business, and they’re becoming more vital every day! The number of technical and complicated tasks they deal with is amazing — and it’s increasing all the time.

I have a huge respect for HR.

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That’s why it must seem unfair when they don’t get what they want the most: a seat at the table.

Even after they’ve worked so hard to do everything right — they’re still getting shut out. Why?

It all comes down to loyalty — to the business owner

OK, here’s why … the answer was easily summed up by a consultant I recently heard speak at a business meeting. To paraphrase, he essentially said this:

All of you business owners — is your HR manager more loyal to you, or more loyal to your employees?

If your answer is that the HR person is more loyal to your employees, get rid of that HR manager right away (no matter how good they are in performing their HR tasks) and hire somebody else!

However, if you think your HR person is sincerely loyal to you and your business first, test their loyalty to make sure, and then promote that HR person, because he or she is a rare find.”

Employees, unfortunately, don’t come first

That’s it. Is it a little ugly? Yes. Did this really happen? Yes.

Ultimately, HR needs to be extremely considerate of the plight of the employees. But, when push comes to shove, their loyalty must be to the business owner and to the company, first and foremost.

Although there’s no guarantee, it’s safe to assume that if an HR professional’s loyalty isn’t first to the owner and the business, they’ll never get a seat at the table.

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8 Comments on “What the Boss Really Thinks of HR

  1. I will repeat what I have told CEO’s – the HR department is the department you deserve. Unless you tell HR what you need and hold them responsible for delivering on those goals, you have only yourself to blame. On the other hand, HR is responsible for making sure they communicate directly with the CEO’s and become a part of the decision-making process, they get what they deserve. So, stop complaining on both ends of the equation and arrive at a concensus as to what the organization needs, and then get on with it.

  2. Tosh. The reason the world of business is in such a mess (what are your employee engagement scores, Mike?) is that nobody cares enough about developing a compelling environment for employees to do good work. If HR can’t do this, who can?

    1. Jon Ingham – Hi Jon… remember, I’m passing this info onto you HR Pros to help you. I’m not the enemy…just the messenger.

      I’m not sure why you asked.., but since you asked about my employee engagement scores, here’s what I can tell you: Again, not being an HR Pro, we don’t have an official “employee engagement” metric. Instead, we always look to make sure everybody is happy, working hard, excited about their jobs, and achieving results. We’re not the perfect employer, but we do okay.

      We have very little turnover in my 5 companies. Why? Because I don’t view my employees as my employees… I view them as my friends. Consequently, we give performance reviews every 6 months to make sure everybody is happy. We also give raises every 6 months (to nearly everyone). We have a “wear what you want” dress code (it’s 80 degrees in Ohio today, so just about everybody is wearing shorts and t-shirts). We make sure everybody has all the computer hardware, smart phones, and resources they need to do their jobs. We offer flex time. People can work from home nearly anytime they want. And, our offices are new, with lots and lots of direct sunlight…with windows that open. So as employers go (in Canton Ohio), we’re definitely one of the better places to be.

      By the way, since you offered your opinion that the “world of business is such a mess,” allow me to offer my opinion. I disagree. I think the world of business works well, and the USA’s free enterprise system is still the best in the world! If we could get more people embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and capitalism, we could put more people to work, improve their incomes, and improve their lives. HR professionals certainly help in all aspects of this, which is why I’m a fan of those who make HR their profession. We in business, need their help!

      Jon, Thanks for writing.

      – Mike Kappel

        1. Several, at least, Shane. But no, I still believe the opposite is true – that it’s short sighted to focus too closely on the business and owner. Long-term performance and business sustainability come from a balanced independence and perspective.

          Mike, that’s great. But few business owners have this passion or insight. Average engagement scores across the US and elsewhere provide plenty of evidence that business is in a mess, and needs a fundamental shake-up. And at least in my opinion, once again, this is about increasing focus on employees as valid stakeholders of a business, not from becoming a sharper management tool.

  3. Well, I appreciate all the love shown HR folks, but I don’t know … this argument seems a little simplistic to me, and it definitely reinforces an unhealthy us/them dynamic. Also, loyalty is subjective, especially in this context. Many employers perceive “disloyal” as any action or suggestion that runs counter to their desires of the day, and having an interest in what interests employees shouldn’t be perceived as a negative. I kind of get what you’re saying, but ultimately, it’s just not that black and white.

    I’ll say what I’ve said before (and this connects to Jon’s point). Employers can’t and shouldn’t expect employees to be loyal and engaged if they believe they’re perceived as nothing more than a means to an end.

  4. Thanks, Mike. You get it. And most good HR pros get that their mission is to support the company and it’s mission. We often find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, as you’ve indicated. I’ve always operated under the premise that if an HR pro is doing her job by supporting the company and management, then the employees will in turn be treated fairly, consistently and well, and thus supported as well.

  5. And this is why, at an employee level, we do not trust or respect HR. For all the money and time and effort spent on ‘personal development goals’ or employee evaluations, or whatever the flavor-of-the-month program is, it boils down to giving management yet more arbitrary power to destroy our morale and productivity, catering to a class of unresponsive, detached, and often not very bright individuals who have the appropriate friends, dress code, and political acumen for their roles as managers.

    What I want as an employee is someone who will tell me the truth, painful as it may be, not waste my time with exercises suitable for an 8-year-old, and will help reduce unnecessary friction between coworkers and management. What I often get is Newspeak worthy of George Orwell himself (let me just repurpose our core competencies and rightsize my agility to maximize shareholder value…) The net effect is that any HR initiative is viewed with contempt and suspicion. The minimal effort will be expended to game the system, to avoid being noticed as an outlier, and otherwise fob off HR and upper management so I can get my damned work done serving my clients to the best of my ability with the least interference from well-dressed misery-inducing cost centers.

    But at least you’re honest about looking to throw people like me under the bus. The contempt goes both ways and at the end of the day, I know how to weld, how to program, how to write, how to cipher, and how to develop meaningful relationships. I cook. I make a mean salsa. I have friends and I won’t let your system wreck my cheerful demeanor. I know I will always be on the losing end of corporate culture and I accept my role as someone who is looked down on as a technical peon. I prop up morale when I can, and toss sand in the gears of capital-M Management when I can get away with it.

    Pro tip: Don’t believe your own hype. I know I’m fallible and not nearly as smart as I may let on. I compensate by reflecting, and looking for ways I’m wrong and can improve. If only those “above me” would show the same self-awareness, we might accomplish something great. But one does not become a company officer that way. As Nick Lowe says, “so it goes”.

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