A Voice at the Table

The origin of Human Resources can be charted back to the industrial revolution. Then the Welfare Officer was tasked with overseeing workers’ wages and record maintenance.  Since that time, HR professionals have held a variety of titles including Labor Manager (1900s), Personnel Manager (1950s), Human Resources Manager (1980s), and finally HR Business Partner.  Wow, it took a while to make partnership.  What does a business partnership with HR really mean?

The look of HR depends on many characteristics such as company size, locations, and industry. HR can be an office manager, part of finance or its own free standing department.  It can wear one hat or many.  The HR leader could report to the owner, President, CEO, COO, even CFO. With so many variables HR can get lost and be absent from critical decision making.  This is the conundrum with Human Resources.

Human Resources should be the guard against employment liability. Whatever form HR takes, it has a unique role of ensuring the organization is compliant with employment regulations AND ensuring appropriate employee management.  This HR individual, or group of individuals, should be leading the defensive team and, as the saying goes, a pro-active defense is the best offense.  HR should be reducing risk by removing employment barriers so the organization can succeed, together.

If allowed to be a leader, HR not only reduces employment risk but also manages the risk when there has been an issue. The HR leader tends to be like Switzerland to be effective.  HR is a neutral voice that should be the in-house expert on managing employment liability within the organization.  That is the voice HR brings to the table and to the culture.  That is the value of the partnership.

No organization would want to be the next Uber or 21st Century Fox.  While we do not know the action or inaction of HR in those situations I think it is a pretty good guess that something failed in the partnership, or by not having an effective HR voice at the table. Something was fractured in both of those organizations’ structure or process.

What can organizations do? First, define the HR role you need.  Different size organizations will need different skill sets.  Select or educate the individual that suites your needs and is capable of being that neutral voice of managing employment risk.

Second, clean up your practices and policies. Be careful what you put in writing and what you don’t have in writing.  It is a fine line of what to share between the employer and employee.  An HR professional can manage that line.

Third, train, train, and more train. The untrained executives, managers, and supervisors are an unconscious liability.  Making cowboy decisions is not effective.

Lastly, invite HR to the table to listen. While large corporations get the headlines for their missteps, everyday managerial decisions that are a cautionary tale.  Consider the disability services company that settled an EEOC lawsuit for $100,000 for allegedly firing employees who needed extended medical leave.  Or a retail store in central Illinois that refused to accommodate employees with disabilities and was ordered to pay $424,045 in damages, lost wages and litigation costs (not including attorney fees). Can you afford $424,045, plus your legal fees, due to carelessness or error of judgment?

HR has a crucial voice in today’s leadership. If you want to take action in cultivating the HR partnership and need guidance, we can be of assistance.  We offer a wide variety of HR Consulting Services, all designed to enrich your organization and reduce your risk.  All services can be customized to suite your requirements.  We can be reached at hrconsulting@jwterrill.com.

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