I talk to HR a lot.
In my past jobs Human Resources was “The Great Obstructor”. When trying to find a job it was the HR department that you had to hope filtered you through to someone with actual hiring authority. Sometimes getting that job interview was like winning the lottery. As much as I don’t like using recruiters, many times I would try to find a recruiter or someone I might know at a company because the most effective way to get a job was to bypass HR. Likewise, on the hiring side I could get better candidates by skipping our HR department. When I wanted to fire someone I had to navigate the byzantine maze of HR to make sure I could. As a manager I routinely had to follow up with HR on employee concerns because the employees would have questions but were afraid to go to HR themselves. I became their intermediary.
That sounds like a lot of activity, but most of it was nothing but a series of one shots. Get in then get out.
I am fortunate that in my current position I deal with some good HR folks. I actually have to routinely deal with the HR managers of two different business units because of where my responsibilities lie. This could be confusing by itself. I routinely have to partner with them on policy changes, career development, and performance issues. I have to direct my managers when to go to HR and often ask the tough questions. I am in an HR Manager’s office every other week. For a group I used to regularly avoid, I now find them invaluable.
Most of that is because of the shift of responsibility from a line manager to a middle manager. I’m running multiple groups and each group has unique needs. I may have a high performer in one group upset about pay while I have a manager in a different group asking about what kind of leadership training we might be offering this year. The requests, questions, and needs vary greatly and it would be unwise for me to address all of them myself. I regularly bump up against confidentiality and discriminatory issues and HR can help make sure that the response we give does not violate someone’s rights. I’m not even worried about a potential lawsuit, I just want to make sure that employee concerns or issues are addressed in an even-handed manner. At the end of the day I want people to go home thinking that they are returning to a good place to work. My partners in HR help me achieve that regularly.
If you’re like me and many of your interactions with HR has been negative, that can be a big hurdle to overcome. Like any team, not all HR personnel are going to be good at their job. At the same time, I feel like I owe it to my employees regardless to always be armed with the most accurate information around corporate policies and regulations. This was especially crucial around performance review time when we were helping people set goals.
So don’t be surprised if you see your director or VP in HR’s office a lot. That’s not a bad thing necessarily. What you really have to wonder is the middle manager who never leaves their desk. What do they do all day?