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I Hate it When HR is Right!

Before my fantastic HR readers launch an all out assault on me for this title, please hear (read) me out.  I am certainly not trying to disparage my chosen profession – not in the least.  I think good HR Pros (obviously) know what they are talking about and that they are able to provide excellent advice to their business partners.  So much so, in fact, that one of the growing competencies of HR Pros is to function as a de-facto (pre) in-house legal counsel.  For those of us involved in employee relations activities and advising our operations partners on such issues, we need to be aware of the big picture (legal) landscape within which are organizations are functioning.

Listen to meNow I am certainly not advocating that we has HR Pros perpetuate the stereotype that we are all a bunch of risk adverse hand wringers; however, in order to provide the best possible advice, we need to keep our knowledge of the legal landscape up to snuff.  So, to come full circle, what I am getting at is that a huge part of what we do is dispense credible, balanced advice to our business partners.

Here is the thing, and what we have to come to grips with, it is just that – advice.  Operations doesn’t have to do what we say.  If they choose to ignore our advice, we shouldn’t pout and whine.  What we should do, and need  to be doing, is building relationships with operations so that they WANT our advice.  This is very different from a scenario whereby your organization dictates that managers HAVE to do what HR says. (I.e. call centres).  The challenge for HR is to influence without direct authority, but then again, that is what separates good HR Pros from great HR Pros.

My point of this post though, while focused on HR Pros, is probably meant more for those that ask advice of HR.  It has been my experience that most HR Pros I have met know what they are doing.  Sure, like any profession there are those that are lacking in their knowledge, skill and ability; however, most are solid citizens.  So, when they give you advice, 99 times out of 100, you should probably take it.  Now, if you are a manager, and you hear words like, “human rights, sued, labour standards, illegal, can’t, not allowed, etc.” you can feel free to either challenge or ignore that advice as it is based on fear and risk adversity.  Not that it isn’t sound, but it just hasn’t been presented and vetted to you properly.  Your HR person hasn’t properly outlined the pros/cons to what you are looking to do nor has he/she identified a way to help you achieve what it is you want to achieve or at the very least, outlined potential consequences so you can make a balanced decision.

However, if they have given you balanced, sound advice, identified pros/cons, identified potential risks and clearly outlined what Door #1 vs. Door #2 contains, you should probably heed their advice.  If your HR Pro understands your business, your departmental challenges and has spent time on your shop floor, then you should probably take their advice.  If your HR Pro unequivocally tells you, “I can not support you on this and here is why….,” then you should probably take their advice.

Here is the thing, I am blown away by how many times an operational manager completely ignores what their HR person advises them to do (or not do) and then is completely shocked when there are negative repercussions.  The most basic of this type of advice is documentation/documenting.  Many HR Pros will advice managers on how to have an effective performance or conduct discussion.  These conversations typically conclude with the HR Pro saying something like, “above all, make sure you document the conversation in case things don’t change.”  Far too many managers simply choose to ignore the last part because it isn’t important (in their eyes) and besides, after one conversation with them, the employee will completely turn around…right!?

By now, you know how this story ends.  The manager eventually wants to terminate the employee because things haven’t gotten better, in fact they have worsened.  The HR Pro asks to review the file/documentation. It ends up that there isn’t any.  The manager wants to terminate anyway.  The HR Pro tells them that based on the lack of documentation, they should offer a severance package if they still with to terminate; otherwise, they need to continue to document and coach.  The manager, predictably doesn’t want to spend the money nor do they want to spend the time.  The HR Pro identifies what MAY happen and asks if they still want to proceed and of course the manager does….so the employee is terminated.

Fast forward to a few weeks later, the company is served a wrongful dismissal notice and the ex-employee is looking for a $50,000 settlement.  The company involves outside legal counsel to help respond.  Legal asks to see the documentation.  When they find out there isn’t any, they advise that the company needs to settle for something north of $40,000.  Everyone is shocked.  How can this be?  Did HR know what they were doing?  It is examples like this that make me hate it when HR is right.  Believe me, there is nothing that makes competent HR Pros feel good when this scenario plays out.  I have a good friend who works in HR who constantly has this happen to her.  Operations goes against her advice, they get sued, and she gets tired of being right.  We don’t like that feeling.  We hate it when we are right.  We don’t want it to get to the point where is becomes obvious that we are right.

So on behalf of all HR Pros, let me say it here, WE HATE BEING RIGHT ALL THE TIME.  We don’t want events to play out in order to prove we know what we are talking about.  We don’t tell finance folks how to balance books and we certainly don’t tell programmers how to code in Java.  So please, next time you ask for our advice, take it.  We are just trying to save you a lot of time and aggravation, as well as save our company a lot of money and negative exposure.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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