Are you the Mr. T of your organisation? By that I don’t mean do you wear excessive amounts of gold bling, have a slightly dubious Mohican and yell “Quit your jibber-jabber!” in meetings. I mean if there is a problem, if no-one else can help, and if they can find you, maybe your staff can call – HR. In my experience, it seems that HR is increasingly becoming the ‘go-to’ department that people contact for all manner of random things that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. But even if you have a hidden talent for making useful gadgets out of bits of string and paperclips whilst locked in a storeroom, is this stretching of the ‘any other duties’ clause a good thing?
I have frequently been asked to do stuff that would not normally be in an HR job description. On one occasion I was asked to write all the organisation’s press releases – apparently the fact that I could string a correctly-spelled sentence together and use apostrophes correctly over-compensated for my complete lack of training in anything marketing-related. Maybe they were getting HR confused with PR… Other examples have been having general office management and facilities responsibilities (light bulbs and loo rolls mostly), being a receptionist/secretary/PA, producing and editing the company newsletter, and taking on company outreach work to bond with the local community.
Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t resent doing any of those things, and quite enjoyed some of it! And sometimes being called upon to do non-HR stuff can be a good learning curve. I was once asked to draw up a Corporate Social Responsibility policy for an organisation, despite pointing out that really this wasn’t relevant to my remit, or indeed my experience and expertise. But, ever ready for a new challenge, I did a load of research, and pulled together a policy so convincing I even converted myself and became the organisation’s champion for saving the planet (I am now something of an eco-warrior, albeit living in a flat rather than a tent and with slightly more co-ordinated clothing.)
But it is interesting that in my experiences, no other department was called on to do any of the random stuff that didn’t sit anywhere else. What I still can’t quite figure out though is – does this indicate a significant amount of respect for the HR function (in that we’re seen as being capable, resourceful, dependable and willing), or a lack of respect (in that our HR work is trivial enough to merit being usurped by a toilet roll?)
Assuming it’s the former, this is also not without its dangers. We can add strings to our bow through doing stuff that is outside of the HR comfort zone – but there is the risk that we become a victim of our own success, raising people’s expectations of us to do ever-more stuff that we weren’t actually hired to do.
Even with more relevant tasks, there is still often the sense that HR works almost as a bolt-on to the rest of the organisation, rather than being intrinsic to it. As an Investors In People Specialist, I often go to organisations to do an IiP Assessment or some consultancy work, and find that I am meeting with some poor HR person who has been given the task of ‘getting IiP accreditation’ on their annual objectives and then left to get on with it. The assumption seems to be that they can just order it online or sit at their desk for a bit and rustle it up, as it is an ‘HR thing’ so no-one else needs to be involved or have any responsibility. The same goes for introducing new policies and procedures, reducing absence/turnover statistics etc.
But while it is nice to know that people have confidence in us to deliver, no HR department is an island, however fab we are! There are plenty of interdependencies with other departments, managers, the senior leadership team etc. This is something that the company big cheeses often seem to forget – especially the ones with no HR representation at the most senior level! As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water etc. etc. So unless managers and staff have the skills, knowledge and behaviours necessary to implement HR policies and initiatives – plus the levels of engagement to actually want to in the first place – even the best examples of policies and processes will just be words on paper. Sadly though, the poor HR team then frequently cop the flak for not meeting their objectives.
Not that this is a cop-out excuse – if we’re pants, we can’t just blame it on everyone else around us, otherwise we may as well go on the Jeremy Kyle show. HR can be vital within an organisation as change agents, contributing hugely to business strategy, communications, employee engagement and productivity. But we do need to make it clear that we need the visible support and co-operation from everyone, from the top level down, in order to be successful in what we’re trying to do. What’s more, our work should be perceived as being important enough not to be sidelined by random stuff that no-one else is ready, willing or able to do!
Right, rant over so must be off – I have to go and spring Murdoch :o)