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HR is More Than “Sick Visits”

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One of my close friends works for a company that has nearly tripled in size over the last couple of years due to a rather large contract that allowed for almost exponential expansion. As we visited recently and shared stories of our work (some humorous, some less so); it became apparent that the company she works for recognizes the need to view the Human Resources function differently. The awareness of the strategic importance of a well-staffed and well-run HR function has allowed the company to keep pace with the demands placed upon it by the huge growth that has occurred.

HR has to be about more than tending to the sick or punishing the failing.

Traditional View

The historical view of HR was that the function was engaged in the tactical actions of:

  • Tracking employee performance appraisal results
  • Ensuring that forms were correctly filled out for paychecks
  • Ensuring that all were enrolled in the company’s benefits
  • Contributing to compensation protocols
  • Ensuring that any contractual obligations (unions or otherwise) were met and adhered to by the company.

For most executives and employees, a call to see someone in HR meant that there was a problem to be addressed.  It might be a performance issue concern that requires rigid adherence to some process that includes:

  1. Verbal warning
  2. Written warning
  3. Termination

Or, it means that there is an administrative concern that must be followed as per the “Corporate Handbook.”  It might relate to:

  1. How “paid time off” (PTO) is to be determined
  2. Whether someone can use Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover a personal or family issue that requires the employee to be away from work for a time
  3. Or, even issues like whether the departments can hold a “holiday party” or need to refer to it differently (or not hold it at all).

In short, the HR function was viewed as a hurdle or an impediment to be overcome by the “real” business leaders who were focused on; profit, market share, sales dollars, efficiency of systems, etc.  In fact, in the classes I teach at the University of New Haven’s graduate school programs – I often am met with horror when I share that as an outside consultant my view of HR is that they are a department that can say, NO to a project.  However, they rarely are authorized to say, YES without getting approval from another business leader.

The More Progressive View

What this company realizes is that there is an entirely different side to the HR role.  HR is not just about tending to the problems or “sick visits” to provide some intervention to correct a bad situation.  It can also be about developing and nurturing the organization through opportunities to get people to excel at their current positions.  It may include:

  1. Selection criteria – giving careful thought to the “what counts” factors for the existing job, but also for future promotion opportunities and needs.
  2. Orientation and on-boarding – a serious concern for the company that went through tremendous expansion.  They had to bring many new employees into the fold and get them to be productive quickly (or risk having the contract in jeopardy).
  3. Mentorship – aligning newer employees with more experienced hands to provide a “go-to resource” to answer questions.
  4. Succession Planning – as the company continues to grow, there will be additional needs in the managerial ranks, a need to “backfill” positions that are vacant as employees leave or retire, etc.
  5. Training – the needs of the company continue to evolve and so there are needs to both upgrade skills on new technology, managerial competencies, industry changes, etc.  HR can meet many of those needs when properly aligned with the business units.
  6. Career Development – assessing the needs of both the company and the individual employee to ensure that there is a fit for current and future assignments and creating a path for people to follow in their career development is a crucial requirement of the company.

The paradigm of HR being the “grim reaper” that is to be avoided (because it is never good news when HR is requesting to see you) to an integral part of the company’s future potential is one that is changing in many organizations.  For it to be successful requires that it be led by someone that is visionary, practical, business-minded, and not simply focused on the “forms and procedures” side of the role.  While those are necessities (especially in dealing with legal issues, union contracts, filing requirements, etc.), they are best matched with someone who wishes to also provide opportunities for “well-care” or developmental experiences to allow employees (and the organiation as a whole) to maximize their value and contributions.

David Zahn

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