Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Human Resources: friends, not foes

If your company is anything larger than tiny, the folks who live in your Human Resources department wield a ton of power. They have the ability to make your life and job much more pleasant, or utterly unbearable. They are folks you need to consciously build a relationship with. I failed to properly understand this early on, and I probably paid the price.

Get to know them as best you can and as early as you can upon arrival. And don’t settle for phone calls either. If they are within walking distance of you, always go and see them face-to-face. Whether they call you or you give them a call, once contact is made, always say, “Hey, I’ll just pop over there and we’ll talk in person.” This is actually a pretty good idea for any team that you need to build rapport with.

Meet often, go out to lunch with them, or do whatever you have to do to have them feel really comfortable with you. Make sure to always alert them at the first signs of anything “HR oriented” going on in your team. Service organizations in general, and HR folks specifically, have plenty of crap to deal with from folks like you. Try to be one of the guys who they actually like working with, rather than the idiot they try to run away from.

Of course, despite building up the best relationship that you can, sometimes the HR team is completely constrained by rules that are handed down from above. Their freedom of action is usually inversely proportional to the size of the company. Small company HR can usually create, bend, and break rules quite frequently, while big corporate HR teams might as well try to strike the letter “Z” from the alphabet.

Regardless of company size, hopefully you will work with HR people who see their job as trying to help you be successful by maximizing the human resources that you have on your team. By “maximizing” I don’t mean giving you more people – I mean making the most of what you have through appropriate hiring, training, compensation, bonusing, and other techniques.

Unfortunately, there are some HR folks who merely see their positions as the policemen for every corporate edict, regardless of whether it helps benefit the company. Good HR folks will work within major corporate rules when they make sense, but will help push for change otherwise. They see their job as helping you succeed, rather than getting their kicks from finding ways to prevent you from getting what you need. I’ve worked with both types, and fortunately, there are far more of the good ones out there. Just watch out for the others.

One of the greatest challenges I’ve always had with HR departments is the tendency of larger companies to “level the playing field” with respect to compensation, increases, and bonuses. We'll dive into that next time.

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