Signs you may have a bad HR practitioner working for you
HR bashing has been rather the rage recently. Most notably, you can find articles on Harvard Business Review and Fast Company. (Interestingly, both of these sites also publish any number of positive articles about HR.) It appears to me that many of these authors have never really practiced HR in the "real" world, so it’s easy to be critical of something you’ve never actually done. The real harm comes when business leaders take these ideas too much to heart and think their organization is behind the times, stuck in the HR rut of years ago. I won’t go into these articles any more deeply than to say they often advocate for the "next best thing" in HR; experiments in human capital management that may work at some companies, but not at many others. Unfortunately, the authors don’t really tell you that.
Paul Hebert (who writes for Fistful of Talent and HRExaminer) wrote a recent blog that highlights the problem of trying to be an "outlier" when you’re not really an outlier. Take a read, it’s very sound thinking.
Clearly, I disagree that HR is no longer relevant, or not a true necessity or is an impediment to effective management. However, as an HR professional, I also know that there are bad HR people out there. Without going the philosophical, big idea route, let’s take this down to the day to day reality most businesses face. Having someone in an HR role that is not knowledgeable enough, or not motivated enough, to do a good job can cost your business plenty. Whether it’s the cost of bad hires, loss of good employees, bad morale, or even unnecessary lawsuits, you want to avoid these costs.
Here are some signs that you have a bad HR practitioner on your team:
Doesn’t have the answers. No one has all the answers. Employment laws and regulations change and are added to frequently, benefits design and administration does as well (ACA, anyone?). It’s difficult, but imperative for your HR practitioner to have the answers, be able to find the answers, and be able to apply the knowledge gained. If the person you are relying on to manage HR in your organization doesn’t have the knowledge, or can’t (or won’t) apply the knowledge, it’s time to make a change. No one really likes being the "HR police", but compliance is vitally important. Non-compliance with employment laws and regulations can cost you dearly. In addition, not being able to assist employees with questions about any number of HR or benefit issues does not serve your organization or your employees.
Presents unqualified (or unscreened) candidates. Or, if your HR practitioner has the authority to hire, hiring those unqualified or not properly screened candidates. Recruiting, interviewing and hiring are never easy. Few people are really great at it. But, there are things that can and should be done to ensure you’re getting the best candidates available for the job, given your resources. Knowing how to source appropriate candidates is necessary. Failing to know the difference between those nice to have qualities and the must-have skills is a red flag. So is not properly screening candidates (references, criminal background history, etc.) or ignoring the information gained during that screening. You need to protect your business, your customers, your employees and your property. Referring to the item above, HR needs to know the federal, state and local regulations concerning processes like criminal background screening, and what you are allowed and not allowed to do.
Spends too much time and effort on low priority tasks. Does your HR practitioner focus more on things like the next company party, or the employee of the month contest or being the dress code police? While cook-outs and contests can be part of an effective employee engagement effort, they are not the meat of a real HR function. Parties are fun and can be a nice break in the routine of work, but are probably best left to employee activity committees. If, while your company has real problems that need attention – underperforming employees, bad supervision, a crappy or confusing benefit plan or maybe the need to respond to rapid growth - your HR practitioner is busy trying to get people to sign up for the holiday party or the wellness contest, you need to examine why.
Knows little to nothing about the business of your company. I firmly believe that in order to be effective, an HR pro needs to know about your business and needs to care about it. She needs to know about your product or service, needs to know who your customers and stakeholders are; needs to understand your revenue stream/funding and your budget. How can your HR practitioner help with your business needs if she doesn’t know what you do, or what your employees do? How can she effectively recruit, retain and manage staff without knowledge and understanding of your business structure, finance and budget?
Never making an exception (to the rules) or making too many exceptions. It’s often drilled into us that we must treat everyone equally. This is not really accurate in most cases. You should be treating people equitably. You probably wouldn’t offer the same considerations to a high-performing, long-term employee as you would to a brand new, unknown new hire. Being consistent, based on the circumstances, and being equitable are far more important than either blindly applying the "rules" without exception, or being inconsistent and unpredictable. If your HR practitioner is rigid or always shoots from the hip, it’s time for a change.
Failing to act in a timely manner. Has HR waited too long to alert you to a pending problem? Didn’t tell you about an employee issue until the employee resigns? Didn’t warn you that the policy you want may not be compliant with the law – until you get sued? A big part of HR is risk-management and preventing problems when possible – being proactive. While it’s not always possible to prevent problems, your HR practitioner should be keeping you informed of potential issues before the crisis occurs.
The only answer to a problem is a new policy! Actually this applies to your management/supervisory staff as well. You don’t need a policy for every, single issue that pops up. It’s gutless and ineffective to create a policy for all employees when you’re faced with one or a few who are causing difficulty. Deal with the trouble makers. Don’t allow numerous rules and policies as a way to avoid confronting the problem employees.
Never or rarely recommends/approves terminating an employee. Yes, it’s important to be sure that a termination is the best solution and to make sure due diligence has been done. However, if your HR practitioner prefers to prolong the agony unnecessarily, it’s time for a change. The old adage of hire slow, fire fast does have merit. Keeping non-performing, or otherwise undesirable employees only serves to reduce morale, reduce productivity and respect for management, and increase distrust in management’s ability to manage.
The "next great thing" in HR or management in general is great and you can explore and experiment. However, if you don’t have a solid foundation on which to base the next great thing, failure is likely. Having a knowledgeable and effective HR practitioner is important to building that solid foundation.