I have been speaking with two friends about HR over the past couple of weeks
– a senior profit-and-loss manager with a large, US-based, brand name in
consumer and business goods; and a key functional leader in North
America for a European household brand name.
Both of these guys frequently call me to ask HR questions – not about tax
laws in Belgium
or about retirement schemes in Singapore,
but about broader HR issues in their areas.
Then it occurred to me that both of their employers enjoy solid reputations
as having good HR departments and policies. So why were they calling me to
discuss their HR issues?
I posed this back to them, and was disturbed with the similarity of the
They each have designated local HR ‘go-to’ people, and HR functions at a
corporate headquarters. But they only hear from HR when it wants to give them a
new policy or procedure. Their HR ‘go-to’ people only transmit.
When my friends do ring their local HR with a query, they can’t get an
answer that doesn’t include fitting them into a policy document. Local HR
doesn’t seem to be able to conjure up solution.
When they call corporate, they are immediately referred either to a specific
policy document, or back to the HR person who couldn’t respond in the first
Neither do they hear from their HR people on a proactive basis. They never
get a ‘how are things going?’ call, or one that asks ‘what’s new in the
business?‘. They can forget
the call that might say ‘I saw the second quarter figures, and I think HR can
help with x’. HR is part of their problem, not part of their solutions.
There’s a crime being committed here, and as a profession we must hunt down
the criminals and stop them.
We have an obligation to our businesses to not only engage our line managers
on an exceptional basis, but rather in a continual dialogue about the things
that HR can do to support the business.
There is a requirement that HR must become more focused on the enterprise
and it’s myriad nuances,
rather than on HR itself. Simple expertise in HR is required, but no longer
Our line managers rarely need ‘in-the-box’ solutions. If we’ve done the
right things in development, they should be able to solve most issues
It’s the unusual issues that allow HR to show its abilities. Are you showing
yours? Do your line managers call you with their issues, or are they calling
strangers? If so, why? HR
management is about relationships.
Lance Richards, GPHR, Senior director
of international HR for Kelly Services and adviser to SHRM