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Doing Too Much Is One of the Worst HR Mistakes

Making the human resources department a dumping ground for all people-related practices is one of the worst HR mistakes any organization can make. 

Use the contrasts below – what HR must do and what HR should not do – to evaluate your organization and distribute the responsibilities differently.

The HR Function Is Expansive and Complex 

Graphic of Someone feels like She Know-it-AllPreviously known as the Personnel Department, HR is a catch-all term used to describe the many  functions related to people. This spans recruitment, hiring, onboarding, payroll, safety, benefits, performance management, career development, training,    compliance with employment laws and regulations, wellness, the employee experience, exiting the organization, and much more. 

In many organizations, HR is also tasked with technology related to people practices, organizational development, culture management, internal communication, oversight of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and continuing education.  

What’s more, the role of HR is rapidly changing. HR is the department that’s usually held responsible for managing adjustments necessitated by the gig economy, remote work, the Great Resignation, the Quiet Quit, globalization, automation, data, AI, a stronger focus on DEI, asynchronous communication, and the need to improve the employee experience.  

As more is needed from HR, it’s increasingly essential to shed work that others really ought to be doing. In addition to the core functions of HR covered in a previous post, new responsibilities are emerging. Now and in the near future, HR also needs to be a: 

Strategic Partner – The “seat at the table” is no longer a luxury for HR. No business can survive and thrive without strategic considerations related to staffing, training, and preparing the workforce for new challenges and business disruption. 

Guide for People Practices – Employees need and are demanding more and better learning/ development opportunities, clarity of information including expectations and standards, and fairness in the execution of policies.  

Enabler of People Resources – Time, budget, resources, access, knowledge, skills, and clarity enable people to do the job they’ve been hired to do. Burnout happens when there’s unrelenting stress because people aren’t equipped to do what they’re being asked to do.   

Reality Checker, Voice of Reason – Despite being understaffed and overwhelmed, organizations everywhere are trying to deliver on promises made to stakeholders. In many cases, this is unrealistic. Someone needs to call out the impossibilities.  

Coach (not couch) – Managers need guidance but shouldn’t be waiting for someone to tell them what to do in every situation. Building business acumen, fostering leadership development and confidence, and signaling that autonomy is valued can all be accomplished by true coaching to promote self-discovery. 

Arbiter in Major Matters (not minor) – This is a balancing act that HR must learn to handle. Without getting overly involved in the day-to-day disputes between people or departments, HR should be included when issues pertain to employee protections or require a big-picture perspective across the organization. 

People Developer – Leadership at every level is a new necessity. Hierarchical, bureaucratic responses and decision-making are not practical any longer. What’s more, employees want, need, and demand development. People thrive when incrementally challenged and when organizations and managers demonstrate that they believe in them and are interested in unleashing their full potential.  

Change Agent for People Analytics, Data & AI Integration – The workplace of the future includes HR chatbots, kiosks for administration of benefits, the ability to objectively (not anecdotally) evaluate effectiveness of recruiting methods and performance management systems, predictive analytics to continually improve the employee experience and HR productivity, and rapid change in response to employee needs. 

Creator of WFH Protocols – As more people extend work-from-home and hybrid arrangements, HR will need to be competent in collaborating to get the right technology, cybersecurity measures, communication, interaction for engagement, and expectations established.

Global Recruiter and Administrator – As WFH evolves to WFA (work from anywhere), HR will need to stay one step ahead of the far-reaching implications related to technology, security, time zone differences, local cultural norms, and proof of work output (vs. time spent working).  

Cultural Competency Example – Factoring in the shift to WFA, globalization, and DEI, HR will need to lead efforts to educate workforce on cultural norms and respect for practices that are unfamiliar. This may include adjusting breaktimes to align with prayer times, setting expectations for attendance and notifications when family needs arise, dress codes, language barriers, and more. 

Developer of Future-Focused Skills – Inside HR and across the organization, HR will need to usher in new processes and skills for hiring and upskilling to provide leadership at every level, familiarity with technology tools, the use of gamification and AI for engagement and enablement, and virtual reality.

Employee Experience Champion – Employees have options, and the success of any organization lies in its people retention, engagement, sense of belonging, wellbeing, safety, inclusivity, focus on purpose and meaning of work, and other practices that ensure a positive employee experience for the entire employee journey with an organization. 

Taken altogether, this is more than enough work for a single function!  Every item on this list requires continuing education, agility, working across all functions in the organization, and frequent high-touch interactions with employees. The volume of work, complexity of work, and reach required simply don’t allow time for HR to continue doing other people’s work. That’s why one of the worst HR mistakes is filling in gaps for work that managers and others are better suited and better positioned to do.    

The Worst HR Mistakes Stem from Doing Other People’s Jobs

It’s tempting for many HRBPs and HR managers to take on roles that have been neglected by others. In some organizations, these roles are explicitly assigned to HR in a misguided attempt to create consistency or due to misunderstanding of the HR function. In some organizations, the expectation is implied, or HR absorbed the work because it wouldn’t get done otherwise. 

Either way, HR’s focus in these areas diminishes their ability to do the work associated with their core responsibilities and with the emerging needs described above. Additionally, when HR does this work they inadvertently interfere in workplace relationships between employees and/or employees and their managers. 

The roles HR should not be playing include:

Mercenary Manager – Stepping in to do the hiring, difficult conversations, disciplinary actions, or firing puts HR in the middle and makes HR a barrier to healthy relationships between managers and their direct reports.    

Culture Steward – Culture cannot be driven by any one department. It should start at the top and be modeled and championed by the senior, executive team. Not HR.   

Event Planner – Even in small organizations, HR shouldn’t be coordinating recognition banquets, office parties, interior design, birthday celebrations, or teambuilding events. This is work that could easily be done by others. 

Performance Management Crutch – HR should be responsible for setting processes and providing tools. HR should not be responsible for hounding managers to use the system/processes. HR should not do the data entry to input information or navigate the system.  

Goal-Setting Guru – Despite a desire for oversight or uniformity, it should not be the responsibility of HR to create and input SMART goals or KPIs.    

Administrative Support – Hire people with the skillset for admin work. Bogging HR down with report-writing, file maintenance, coordination, and the like creates big gaps in the people-focused work HR really needs to be doing.  

Policy Police – HR cannot be the hall monitor for minor infractions, fashion police for the dress code, or parental figures giving feedback about employee hygiene and playing nice in the sandbox. 

Complaint Window – People need to talk to each other, not about each other. When HR doesn’t set boundaries and becomes the “shoulder to cry on,” it sets a false expectation that every bruised ego or hurt feeling will be remedied by the company. That’s not realistic. Save HR’s intervention for the infractions that, by law, require immediate attention. 

Employee Engagement Task Master – HR may administer the employee engagement survey, summarize the findings, and present recommendations. But the responsibility for responding to those findings and implementing those recommendations should be shared by the entire executive team. 

Lighten the Load on HR by Teaching Managers to Do Their Own Work   

To redistribute roles and responsibilities, you’ll need to make sure your managers are fully trained to do the work of managing work AND leading people. 

When first promoted, supervisors instead become “super doers” because they aren’t equipped for supervising. They aren’t taught to set expectations, give feedback, administer progressive disciplinary actions, delegate for development, coach, motivate, set an example, or create accountability. No one holds them accountable for supervising, only for the work output. They default to do what they know how to do – more of the same job they did on the frontline. 

When problems become too big to overlook any longer, these supervisors turn to HR. They want someone else to do the dirty work of discipline. Without a history of documentation and progressive disciplinary measures, HR is unable to fully support the employee or the supervisor. Things get even uglier. 

When managers aren’t trained on all aspects of people development, performance reviews are subpar and pointless. Bench strength is lacking. Retention and productivity suffer. Employee morale is diminished. Ultimately, this is unfair to everyone involved. 

This is all exacerbated by HR’s unspoken agreement to step in for managers who can’t or won’t set and uphold expectations. Rather than doing the work, HR must find ways to train supervisors and managers in the following:

  • Basics of employment law and to protect employees from unfairness, bias, favoritism, harassment, and hostile work environments
  • Company policies and procedures for safety, disciplinary measures, performance review
  • Modeling professional standards and company values
  • Communicating effectively 
  • Setting clear and consistent expectations
  • Giving routine feedback, both constructive and encouraging
  • Enabling and ennobling employees so they can work without unnecessary barriers
  • Delegating for development so employees are appropriately challenged and growing
  • Coaching for development
  • Conducting 1:1 meetings to engage and include employees
  • Motivating and inspiring employees
  • Managing change
  • Handling conflict and difficult conversations
  • Engaging employees and creating a positive culture
  • Simultaneously managing work AND leading people

When supervisors have the skills, expectations, confidence, and experience with the people parts of their job, HR won’t need to be involved in any of the preliminary stages of performance management. The relationships between employees and their managers will become stronger. Employee engagement will improve. Retention rates will improve, too, as a result of higher levels of engagement and feeling “backed” by the boss. 

Without skilled supervisors, HR is left to pick up the pieces of disciplinary actions and the inevitable turnover produced by employees who aren’t getting clear expectation, routine feedback, and opportunities to grow. This overburdens HR, stresses organizational capacity, and adversely impacts business results. 

The investment in manager training is minimal compared to those costs. Shortcutting training on basic supervisory skills is a grave disservice to everyone involved. 

To learn more about affordable options for training your supervisors and managers, check out our premier program, Workplace Conversations. It’s available in three formats to accommodate any organization or situation. 

  1. Self-paced, eLearning course with 13 modules, engaging videos, quick reads, and takeaway tools. Certificate program is backed by access to an instructor. 
  2. Open enrollment workshops are offered quarterly. These live sessions are virtual and meet twice each week for 6 consecutive weeks. Peer learning and highly interactive sessions are supplemented by 1:1 coaching calls.
  3. Customized delivery for your supervisor team of 6+ people. Virtual workshop series is available in English or Spanish. Sessions are highly interactive with examples and role plays related to your team’s industry and function.

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